AP Photo/Matt York
For the first time in 578 days, Brittney Griner suited up in a WNBA regular season game as the Phoenix Mercury opened the 2023 campaign on Friday night against the Los Angeles Sparks at Crypto.com Arena.
“Today is a day of joy,” Mercury head coach Vanessa Nygaard told reporters Friday. “An amazing, amazing thing has happened.”
Griner hadn’t appeared in a WNBA game since Game 4 of the 2021 Finals after being detained in Russia in February 2022. She spent 10 months in a Russian prison before being freed in a prisoner swap between the United States and Russia.
Griner’s highly-anticipated return to the court was celebrated by her coaches, teammates, fans and even Vice President Kamala Harris, who attended Friday’s season-opener and gave a speech in the Mercury locker room before the game.
Phoenix Mercury @PhoenixMercury
Thank you @VP Kamala Harris for everything you and the Administration did to bring our sister home.
And thanks for the pregame speech! 💜 pic.twitter.com/SzuFrpMnP2
Griner, a seven-time All-Star and 2014 WNBA champion, opened the first half of Friday’s game with an impressive 11 points, five rebounds, two assists and three blocks.
Another look at Brittney Griner’s first made bucket of the 2023 szn 😤 pic.twitter.com/esnBJUQMJc
So good we had to see it twice 🤩 pic.twitter.com/oWBYb6KUdP
The 32-year-old is expected to play a significant role for the Mercury this season alongside Diana Taurasi as Phoenix looks to rebound from a disappointing 15-21 finish to the 2022 campaign.
It might take some time for Griner to return to full form, but there’s little doubt she can help the team after averaging 20.5 points, 9.5 rebounds and 1.9 blocks during the 2021 season.