Brittney Griner made her 2023 WNBA regular-season debut on Friday and the seven-time All-Star immediately made her presence felt. 

Griner scored 18 points, grabbed six rebounds, and blocked four shots in her first regular season game since being jailed in Russia for nearly 10 months.  

Brittney Griner plays against the Sparks

Brittney Griner, #42 of the Phoenix Mercury, during play against the Los Angeles Sparks at Arena on May 19, 2023, in Los Angeles, California.   (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Griner stood for the national anthem before the tip-off against the Los Angeles Sparks, a 94-71 loss for the Mercury.   


"You have the right to protest, the right to able to speak out, question, challenge and do all these things," Griner said, according to ESPN. "What I went through and everything, it just means a little bit more to me now. So I want to be able to stand. I was literally in a cage [in Russia] and could not stand the way I wanted to.

"Just being able to hear my national anthem, see my flag, I definitely want to stand. Now everybody that will not stand or not come out, I totally support them 100 percent. That's our right, as an American in this great country."

Griner was arrested in February 2022 at Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport after authorities discovered vape canisters with cannabis oil in her luggage. 

Brittney Griner in Russia

WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner, stands listening to a verdict in a courtroom in Khimki just outside Moscow, Russia, Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022.  (Evgenia Novozhenina/Pool Photo via AP)


Her Russian detainment ended in December after months of strained negotiations, with the Biden administration agreeing to exchange Griner for convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.

"I appreciate everything a little bit more, all of the small moments, like, ‘Oh, I’m so tired I don’t want to go to practice today,’ that has changed, honestly," she said. "Tomorrow is not guaranteed, you don’t know what it’s going to look like. I feel a lot older somehow, too."

Griner stated in July 2020 that she didn't think the national anthem should be played during the WNBA season, adding that she would not be on the court for the anthem if it were to continue to be played before games. 

Brittney Griner during national anthem

Brittney Griner, #42 of the Phoenix Mercury, stands for the National Anthem prior to the game against the Los Angeles Sparks on May 19, 2023, at Crypto.Com Arena in Los Angeles, California.  (Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images)

On Friday, Griner’s agent penned an op-ed in Time explaining why Griner intends to stand for the national anthem during the 2023 WNBA season. 


"Last year, most WNBA teams chose to remain in their locker rooms during the national anthem, in a gesture of unified protest against the incongruity between the values the anthem signifies and the realities for Black people in America," Lindsay Kagawa Colas wrote. "This year, as so much remains unchanged, some teams or players may do the same. Others may sit or kneel. Still others, including Brittney Griner, plan to stand up — physically for the anthem itself and symbolically for the rights of their peers to make themselves heard and express dissent loudly and boldly, and in accordance with the proudest traditions of this country, however they see fit."

Kagawa Colas explained that Griner will make a statement on "American freedoms" by standing for the anthem. 

Brittney Griner warms up before a game against the Sparks

Brittney Griner of the Phoenix Mercury warms up before their game against the Los Angeles Sparks at Arena on May 19, 2023, in Los Angeles, California. Griner is playing in her first regular season WNBA game since returning to the U.S. after being freed following 10 months spent in a Russian prison. U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris was in attendance for the game. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

"Having been put in a literal cage, too small for her frame, stripped of her essential American freedoms, and deprived of even her most basic rights during a sham trial and unjust sentencing, Brittney, supported by many other players, will make a statement this WNBA season by standing tall for those uniquely American freedoms — the most important of which being the absolute and inviolable and constitutionally protected freedom to stand, sit, kneel, praise, protest, and otherwise make your voice heard," Kagawa Colas continued. 

Phoenix will make its 2023 season home debut on Sunday against the Chicago Sky. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.