Brittney Griner got a chance to shake off some rust last week when she played a preseason WNBA game for the first time since she was detained in Russia on drug-related charges.
That’s all over now. She plays for real Friday night.
Griner and the Phoenix Mercury visit the Los Angeles Sparks as part of a four-game slate on the first day of the WNBA season. The 32-year-old center scored 10 points in 17 minutes in a home exhibition loss against Los Angeles last week.
Griner was arrested at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport in February 2022 after Russian authorities said a search of her luggage revealed vape cartridges containing cannabis oil. She returned to the U.S. in December after she was part of a high-profile prisoner swap.
Since her release, Griner has used her platform to advocate for other Americans being detained abroad. She was already an LGBTQ+ activist since publicly coming out in 2013.
Griner announced in April that she is working with Bring Our Families Home, a campaign formed last year by the family members of American hostages and wrongful detainees held overseas. She said her team has been in contact with the family of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, who is being detained in Russia on espionage charges.
With all that has happened off the court, it’s easy to forget Griner had arguably her best season in 2021. She finished second in the MVP voting after averaging 20.5 points, 9.5 rebounds and nearly two blocks per game. She was a major reason the Mercury reached the WNBA Finals before losing to the Chicago Sky.
The 6-foot-9 Griner is expected to receive a warm reception in Los Angeles and other WNBA arenas across the country this season. She received a standing ovation before the Mercury’s preseason game last week.
Mercury coach Vanessa Nygaard called the extra attention a challenge — but a welcome one.
“I’m anticipating the first time we go everywhere, it’ll be the ‘BG’ game, and it’ll be a thing,” Nygaard said. “So maybe we have to get through all the cities, and then it’ll be more normal. But it’s going to be a great tour. She’s going to go into a bunch of spaces where people are really excited and supportive.”