Brittney Griner strolled down the sideline about 1 and 1/2 hours before Phoenix Mercury played Friday night and hugged and high-fived her teammates, coaches and opposing players.
Then it was a little stretching, a little shooting and a little agility work to prepare for a basketball game - just like old times.
Griner returned to game action for the first time since a nearly 10-month detainment in Russia on drug-related charges which ended with a prisoner swap in December. The seven-time All-Star, who missed the entire 2022 season because of the detainment, finished with 10 points and three rebounds in a WNBA preseason game against the Los Angeles Sparks.
The 6-foot-9 Griner looked good, especially considering the long layoff, casually throwing down a one-handed dunk during warmups. She received a loud ovation from the home crowd when she was introduced before tipoff.
Once the game started, the 32-year-old immediately went to work, scoring on a turnaround jumper early in the first quarter. A few minutes later, she was fouled on another turnaround and sank both free throws.
Griner’s return to the Mercury rekindles hope the franchise can make another run to the WNBA Finals. The former Baylor star helped the franchise win its third title in 2014 and has averaged 17.7 points and 7.6 rebounds during her nine-year career. She was runner-up for Most Valuable Player in 2021.
Phoenix opens the regular season in Los Angeles next Friday.
The extra exposure from being detained in Russia for having vape cartridges containing cannabis oil in her luggage has given Griner a platform to advocate for other Americans being detained abroad. She was already an LGBTQ+ activist since publicly coming out in 2013 and became the first openly gay athlete to be sponsored by Nike.
Griner announced in April that she is working with Bring Our Families Home, a campaign formed last year by the family members of American hostages and wrongful detainees held overseas. She said her team has been in contact with the family of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, who is being detained in Russia on espionage charges.
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