From an AP story by Beth Harris headlined “”A day of pleasure’: Brittney Griner opens 1st WNBA recreation since detainment in Russia”:
Brittney Griner wasted no time making her presence felt in her first WNBA regular-season recreation since she was jailed in Russia.
She fired a move to Moriah Jefferson, who hit a 3-pointer to open the Phoenix Mercury’s recreation in opposition to the Los Angeles Sparks on Friday evening. Griner went 2 for 3 with three rebounds and two blocked pictures in the primary 4 minutes whereas serving to the Mercury to a 7-0 lead.
For the primary time since final season, Phoenix coach Vanessa Nygaard opened her pregame feedback with out asserting what number of days Griner had been jailed.
Griner has been free since December when she was a part of a high-profile prisoner swap.
“Until the day we got the news in the morning that she was on her way home, no one thought that it was going to happen,” Nygaard mentioned. “We did our jobs probably with less joy than professional athletes do. It was heavy every day.”
“Today is a day of joy,” Nygaard mentioned. “An amazing, amazing thing has happened.”
Griner and the Mercury have been greeted with a standing ovation once they got here on court docket for pregame warmups.
Griner hugged Vice President Kamala Harris and first gentleman Doug Emhoff as they left the court docket after Harris was offered with a No. 49 Sparks jersey. Earlier, Harris posed for images in the Mercury’s locker room.
Griner patted her coronary heart and applauded in return throughout a quick video welcoming her again to the WNBA.
Griner scored 10 factors in 17 minutes in an exhibition loss to the Sparks final week. It was the 32-year-old heart’s first recreation motion since she was arrested at a Moscow airport in February 2022 after Russian authorities mentioned a search of her baggage revealed vape cartridges containing hashish oil.
“We brought back this Black, gay woman from a Russian jail and America did that because they valued her and she’s a female athlete and they valued her,” Nygaard mentioned.
“Just to be part of a group that values people at that level, it makes me very proud to be an American. Maybe there’s other people that that doesn’t make them proud, but for me, I see BG and I see hope and I see the future and I have young children and it makes me really hopeful about our country,” the coach mentioned.
Fans arriving early to Crypto.com Arena wore T-shirts with Griner’s title and jersey quantity on them. The 6-foot-9 Griner stopped to photo-bomb a gaggle of younger ladies posing courtside earlier than the sport.
Billie Jean King and spouse Ilana Kloss, who’re part-owners of the Sparks, have been available for the opener, as was Magic Johnson.
Since her launch, Griner has used her platform to advocate for different Americans being detained overseas. She was already an LGBTQ+ activist since publicly popping out in 2013.
“She stands for so many people, so many different kind of people who can be undervalued in our society,” Nygaard mentioned. “She stands with pride and confidence and has never once has shied away from who she is.”
Griner introduced in April that she is working with Bring Our Families Home, a marketing campaign shaped final yr by the relations of American hostages and wrongful detainees held abroad. She mentioned her staff has been in contact with the household of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, who’s being detained in Russia on espionage prices.
“She’s an amazing person on and off the court,” Phoenix guard Moriah Jefferson mentioned. “I think her energy just inspires everybody every single day to show up and be the best version of themselves.”
With all that has occurred off the court docket, it’s simple to overlook Griner had arguably her greatest season in 2021. She completed second in the MVP voting after averaging 20.5 factors, 9.5 rebounds and almost two blocks per recreation. She was a significant motive the Mercury reached the WNBA Finals earlier than shedding to the Chicago Sky.