Brittney Griner plays in first game since detainment, says hearing national anthem 'definitely hit different'
Griner spent nearly 10 months in a Russian prison
Seven-time WNBA All-Star Britney Griner returned to game action on Friday for the first time since being arrested in February 2022 at Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport after authorities discovered vape canisters with cannabis oil in her luggage.
Griner spent nearly 10 months in a Russian prison after she pleaded guilty to drug charges, and she returned to the United States in December after a prisoner exchange.
On Friday night, Griner played in her first competitive game since the 2021 WNBA Finals, scoring 10 points for the Phoenix Mercury in a preseason game against the Los Angeles Sparks.
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It was the Mercury's final preseason game before the regular season opener on Friday.
Prior to the tip, Griner and her teammates stood for the national anthem, and the No. 1 pick of the 2013 WNBA Draft received a loud ovation from the home crowd as she was introduced.
"Hearing the national anthem, it definitely hit different," Griner said. "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.
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"Being here today ... it means a lot."
In July 2020, as social justice protests were occurring around the country, Griner said she didn't feel that the anthem should be played during the season, adding that she didn't mean any "disrespect to our country."
Griner re-signed with Phoenix in February, returning for her 10th WNBA season, all with the Mercury.
"We looked at each other, and we just had chills," Mercury coach Vanessa Nygaard said. "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."
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Griner added three rebounds in 17 minutes, but she was critical of her performance, saying she was more rusty than she expected.
"Not where I want it to be, but on the right track," Griner said. "We're making the right moves."
Griner’s 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.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.