Britney Griner starred in the Phoenix Mercury’s first win of the new WNBA season, as the center, who was detained in a Russian prison labor camp for 10 months, scored 19 points in a 90-81 win over the Minnesota Lynx.
On Thursday, the 32-year-old was four points shy of Phoenix’s top scorer of the night – guard Diane Taurasi. She also put up eight rebounds and one assist.
Griner – a seven-time All-Star – continues to provide a ratings boost for the league, six months after returning to US soil following her imprisonment in Russia for being in possession of cannabis oil at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport in February 2022.
She looked in top form in Sunday’s 75-69 loss to the Chicago Sky by contributing 27 points, 10 rebounds and four blocked shots. She was also overcome with emotion while being greeted warmly in her first home game since the 2021 season.
‘It was really good,’ Griner said afterward. ‘Part of the process of healing is just kind of letting it out. So, yeah, I got choked up a little bit.’
Brittney Griner’s focus was razor sharp on Thursday as she got Phoenix its first win of the year
The 32-year-old center put up 19 points in a 90-81 win over the Minnesota Lynx on Thursday
In Phoenix’s season opener against the LA Sparks, Griner, who was at this year’s Met Gala and the White House earlier in May, scored 18 points.
She also had six rebounds and two assists in the Mercury’s 91-74 loss on May 19.
The basketball star was often outspoken for social justice in 2020 and didn’t take the court during the pregame anthem. But nearly a year behind bars in Russia changed her.
‘I was literally in a cage and could not stand the way I wanted to,’ she said after the Mercury’s first loss of the season against the Spark.
‘Just being able to hear my national anthem and see my flag, I definitely want to stand.’
Griner was outspoken for social justice in 2020 and didn’t take the court during the pregame anthem. But nearly a year behind bars in Russia changed her
Griner and her wife, Cherelle Griner, attend The 2023 Met Gala in New York City on May 1, 2023
The center, 32, is playing for the Phoenix Mercury after being held in Russia for 10 months
Before the Mercury’s first game of the 2023 season, Griner hugged Vice President Kamala Harris and first gentleman Doug Emhoff as they left the court after Harris was presented with a No. 49 Sparks jersey.
Earlier, Harris posed for photos in the Mercury’s locker room.
Ahead of Thursday night’s win against the Lynx, Mercury coach Vanessa Nygaard revealed how amazed she was with how Griner is dealing with everything after her well-publicized ordeal.
‘I just continue to be impressed with B.G.,’ Nygaard said.
‘B.G. is somebody that can handle so many things, clearly, that many people could not handle.
‘So, I was just really happy to have her back on the court and just to feel the love from all of our fans.’
Griner was briefly imprisoned at the IK-2 penal colony in the town of Yavas in Mordovia
A national champion at Baylor in 2012 and WNBA champion with the Mercury two years later, Griner had been supplementing her income by playing in the Russian league since 2014.
But while returning to the country in February of 2022, the Houston native was arrested at an airport outside Moscow with what Russian security claimed were cartridges of hash oil.
Amid the backdrop of Russia’s ongoing war with Ukraine, Griner was found guilty and sentenced to nine out of a possible 10 years in a Russian penal colony, where she reported in November.
However, she was freed a month later after the US State Department negotiated the prisoner exchange for Bout.
Griner re-signed with team in February and is in line to earn $165,000 this season.