Brittney Griner returns to action for the first time since being released from detention in Russia
Brittney Griner has played with Phoenix Mercury for the first time since 2021, returning to action in a preseason game after nearly 10 months of detention in Russia.
The two-time Olympic gold medalist was released from a Russian jail in a high-profile prisoner exchange with the United States late last year after she was arrested in February 2022 on drug charges for possessing cannabis oil.
Griner pleaded guilty to the charges and was sentenced to nine years in prison.
“I didn’t think I would be sitting here. I didn’t think I would be playing basketball this quickly,” Griner told reporters after Mercury’s 90-71 loss to Los Angeles Sparks on Friday night.
“I didn’t know how it was going to go, getting back into it. Grateful to be here, that’s for sure.”
Griner was greeted to roars of celebration at Phoenix’s Footprint Center as she exited the tunnel and strode onto the court.
The eight-time All-Star got on the board in the first minute with a two-point shot, and had 10 points with three rebounds across 17 minutes.
“I didn’t feel like I was gassed or dying. [I’m] knocking off those cobwebs, getting rid of the bad clothes.”
The two-time WNBA scoring champion has been subject to enormous media interest since her return to the United States, using her super-sized platform to champion the cause of other Americans detained abroad.
The 32-year-old, who is working on a memoir about her arrest and imprisonment, said the season ahead also offered an opportunity to focus on the game again.
“It feels good, you definitely feel appreciated,” said Griner. “But I can’t wait for the day where it’s kind of like just basketball.”
Mercury open their regular season on the road in Los Angeles against Sparks on May 19.