Brittney Griner Returns to WNBA Court for First Time Since Russian Detainment
Brittney Griner returned to the WNBA court for the first time since her nearly 10-month detainment in Russia for the Phoenix Mercury’s preseason finale at home Friday night.
Griner played 17 minutes and scored 10 points in her first WNBA action since the 2021 WNBA Finals — a span of 572 days — and while Friday’s matchup was essentially just warmup game, the gravity of the situation wasn’t lost on Griner.
“I didn’t think I would be sitting right here,” Griner told reporters postgame (via ESPN). “I didn’t think I would be playing basketball this quickly. Even coming back, I didn’t know how it was going to go getting back into it. I mean, I’m grateful to be here for sure. I’m not going to take today for granted, but it was a lot to take in.”
Griner — who, like other WNBA stars, played basketball in Russia during the offseason — was arrested in February 2022 after two cannabis vape cartridges were discovered in her carry-on luggage. Though Griner claimed she packed the cartridges by mistake, she pleaded guilty to drug smuggling charges and was eventually sentenced to nine years in prison. Eventually, Griner’s release was secured with a one-for-one prisoner swap for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.
Griner was admittedly critical of her performance in her first game back since the ordeal, saying she had to “knock off some cobwebs” before she returns to the level of play that made her a seven-time WNBA all-star.
“I mean, honestly, like, I didn’t guard anybody today. First game back, preseason game. The game in L.A. (Friday’s season opener) will look totally different. We’re going to do totally different things, but coach keeps telling me to give myself grace, but that’s hard.”
As Friday’s game was a preseason matchup, only about 4,500 people were on hand at Phoenix’s Footprint Center to witness Griner’s return; she can expect a bigger “Welcome Back” party when the Mercury have their season home opener next Sunday, May 21.