LOS ANGELES — Brittney Griner, who lower than six months in the past was in a Russian jail and fearing she won’t ever get dwelling, made her official return to skilled basketball Friday evening.
Griner, 32, had a team-high 18 factors on 7-of-9 capturing, six rebounds and 4 blocks for the Phoenix Mercury in a 94-71 loss to the Los Angeles Sparks on opening evening for the WNBA. It was one other milestone in her path again from a harrowing ordeal that included virtually 10 months of detainment.
“It’s a miracle that she’s right here,’’ Mercury head coach Vanessa Nygaard informed reporters earlier than the sport.
Shortly earlier than tipoff, Griner exchanged hugs with Vice President Kamala Harris and Second Gentleman Douglas Emhoff, who had been in attendance at Crypto.com Enviornment. Different notables included Daybreak Staley, Billie Jean King, Magic Johnson and former Lakers stars Pau Gasol and Michael Cooper.
The boisterous crowd of 10,396, filled with younger followers, some sporting “We Are BG’’ pins in honor of Griner, gave her a protracted and loud standing ovation.
“It was good to be again for an actual sport and every part. The love from the followers once I got here out was wonderful,” Griner stated after the sport.
Griner, an eight-time All-Star, shortly made her presence felt on the court docket.
After successful the opening tip, Griner dished out an help on the Mercury’s first possession, grabbed a defensive rebound after racing down the court docket and moments later drained a 21-foot jumper to place Phoenix up 5-0. It was a surreal sight contemplating the ordeal that started in February 2022 when she was taking part in for a professional crew in Russia.
Griner was detained at a Moscow airport after vape cartridges containing hashish oil allegedly had been present in her baggage. She pleaded responsible to the drug prices and was sentenced to 9 years in jail and moved to a penal colony.
Freed in December as a part of a prisoner swap, the 6-foot-9 middle took the court docket to rousing cheers at Crypto.com Enviornment for a sport televised nationally by ESPN.
It had been been 578 days since Griner performed in her final WNBA sport — Recreation 4 of the 2021 WNBA Finals — and an opportunity to listen to her identify throughout participant introductions created “a swell of feelings.”
“Didn’t get to expertise that for some time, so simply taking it in however staying targeted as a result of on the finish of the day I’ve received a job to do,” Griner stated.
It was the primary sport of a 40-game common season that may take a look at Griner’s means to regain her All-Star kind. In the course of the 2021 season, the final she performed within the WNBA, Griner was an MVP candidate.
The Mercury open at dwelling on Sunday in opposition to the Chicago Sky.