Brittney Griner was “grateful” to be able play in her first competitive basketball game since being released from a Russian prison in December. The 32-year-old WNBA superstar took the court alongside her Phoenix Mercury teammates in a preseason game against the Los Angeles Sparks on Friday, May 12. “I’m grateful to be here, that’s for sure,” Griner said, per CBS News. “I’m not going to take a day for granted.”
It’s nowhere near as full as it’ll be for the home opener but here’s Brittney Griner’s introduction tonight. pic.twitter.com/8Xr2p3Pn6E
— Josh Weinfuss (@joshweinfuss) May 13, 2023
Although she missed the entire 2022 season because of the 10-month detainment on drug-related charges, Griner appeared in fine form, as she scored 10 points and made 3 rebounds in the Mercury’s 90-71 loss to the Sparks. Still, the two-time Olympic medalist thought she could do better during her 17 minutes on the court. “Not where I want it to be, but on the right track,” Griner told reporters, per CNN. “We’re making the right moves.”
In August 2022, Griner was sentenced to nine years in prison under drug-smuggling charges after Moscow airport security found cannabis oil in her luggage. Four months later, she was released during a prisoner swap for arms dealer Viktor Bout, which she celebrated on her Instagram. Now, after a few practice games, she’s ready to chase that Most Valuable Player award again, as she was runner-up for it in 2021. But Griner will also be savoring every moment.
“I didn’t think I would be playing basketball this quickly,” Griner explained to reporters. “Even coming back, I didn’t know how it was going to go getting back into it.” She continued, “It’s like when you go for the Olympics, you’re sitting there, about to get gold put on your neck, the flags are going up and the anthem is playing, it just hits different.”
“Hearing the national anthem, it definitely hit different,” Griner added.
Brittney Griner getting some shots in. pic.twitter.com/hsdFPecDpm
— Jenna Ortiz (@jennarortiz) May 13, 2023
Mercury coach Vanessa Nygaard said the anthem was an emotional experience for the entire team. “We looked at each other and we just had chills,” Nygaard said, per CBS News. “We were here last year for all of it. I’m getting emotional about it now. Just to see her back out there — it’s an absolute miracle. It was amazing. It’s giving me chills again.”
During her first press conference since returning home in April, Griner said that she will skip playing basketball overseas during the WNBA offseason. “I can say, for me, I’m never going overseas to play again unless I’m representing my country at the Olympics,” she told reporters.
Griner and the Phoenix Mercury will officially open the 2023 WNBA regular season on May 19 in another game against the Sparks in Los Angeles. Her first home game will be on May 21 when Phoenix takes on Chicago Sky.
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