Brittney Griner played her first basketball game since her release from a Russian prison camp. And the WNBA star said she noticed something different.
Check that. Nothing tangible was different. Rather, she noticed how the national anthem took on a new, powerful meaning. The Mercury played the Los Angeles Sparks in an exhibition game Friday to tune up for the start of the regular season, which starts in a week.
Brittney Griner stood with her teammates in pre-game. She took in the cheers from the fans who welcomed her back. And she listened to the anthem.
“Hearing the national anthem, it definitely hit different,” Griner told reporters after the game. “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.”
She added “Being here today … it means a lot.”
Brittney Griner helped the U.S. win two Olympic gold medals. The medal ceremony and anthem were the desired goals. Conversely, back in 2020, she also participated in some protests against the national anthem. She never kneeled. Rather she suggested that the anthem shouldn’t be played before every WNBA game. And she wouldn’t be on the court while the anthem played.
On Friday night, Griner was front and center at Footprint Center Arena in Phoenix, for the pre-game ceremonies. She hadn’t played in an organized game since the United States secured her release last December in a prisoner swap with Russia.
“We looked at each other, and we just had chills,” Mercury coach Vanessa Nygaard said in a post-game press conference about Brittney Griner. “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.”
Until Friday, Brittney Griner hadn’t played in organized game since 2021
Griner didn’t show many signs of rust. She scored 10 points with three rebounds in the tuneup. Just participating in a game with her friends and teammates brought her joy. She missed all of the 2022 WNBA season after being arrested in Russia on drug charges. During WNBA off-seasons, Griner played for an elite team in Russia. When she flew to Moscow in February, 2022, police checked her luggage and found a small amount of hashish oil in some vaping cartridges. She eventually pleaded guilty and a judge sentenced her to nine years of hard labor in a prison work farm.
She was back in her element, Friday, as she celebrates her 10th anniversary with the WNBA.
“I’m grateful to be here, that’s for sure,” Brittney Griner said. “I’m not going to take a day for granted.”
Griner has maintained a higher profile this year. She wants to bring attention to other Americans still imprisoned overseas. She’s writing a book. And she’s made appearances at events like the White House Correspondents Dinner. And she and wife, Cherelle, dropped by the Met Gala in New York.
“I was able to come home,” Brittney Griner told Vogue. “A lot of families that don’t get the availability, you know, that I have with media so every day just being there, being a voice for those families so they’re not feeling left behind or forgotten at all.”