Brittney Griner receives standing ovation in WNBA return

Friday marked Griner's first non-preseason game since Oct. 2021

Brittney Griner, despite being a road opponent on Friday, received a standing ovation from the Los Angeles crowd on Friday night.

Griner's Phoenix Mercury are kicking off their season in L.A. against the Sparks - it marks her first WNBA game (excluding preseason) since Oct. 17, 2021 in the WNBA Finals.

"You come to work, you gotta put everything aside," Griner told the ESPN broadcast of her emotions after the first quarter.

placeholderGriner was arrested in February 2022 at Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport after authorities discovered vape canisters with cannabis oil in her luggage. 


Brittney Griner in first game back

Brittney Griner #42 of the Phoenix Mercury looks on during the game against the Los Angeles Sparks on May 19, 2023, at Crypto.Com Arena in Los Angeles, California.  (Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images)

She was sentenced to nine years in August after pleading guilty to drug charges but was traded for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout in a controversial prisoner exchange in December. She arrived back on U.S. soil on Dec. 9.

Bout, who is known internationally as the "Merchant of Death," was serving 25 years in federal prison after he was convicted of conspiracy to kill Americans relating to the support of a Colombian terrorist organization.

Before the game, she was paid a visit in the locker room by Vice President Kamala Harris, who spoke to both the Mercury and the Sparks together.

"Thank you for all that you did in supporting Brittney, because I know that was rough, and that was so difficult for you," Harris said.

Griner said she had a "harrowing experience" in Russia.

Brittney Griner during national anthem

Brittney Griner #42 of the Phoenix Mercury stands for the National Anthem prior to the game against the Los Angeles Sparks on May 19, 2023 at Crypto.Com Arena in Los Angeles, California.  (Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images)


"I arrived in Moscow to rejoin the UMMC Ekaterinburg basketball team and was immediately detained at the airport. That day was the beginning of an unfathomable period in my life which only now am I ready to share," Griner wrote in a post on Instagram

The WNBA posted a video of several Los Angeles Sparks players - Griner's opponent on Friday - discussing the WNBA star n a positive light on Thursday.

"What I love about having BG back on the floor is that basketball is her safe space," Sparks forward Chiney Ogwumike said in the video. "Growing up in Houston, Texas together alongside my sister, we followed her career closely, we supported each other, and just to have her back, it means the world to us."

Brittney Griner return

Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner (42) warms up before a WNBA basketball game against the Los Angeles Sparks in Los Angeles, Friday, May 19, 2023.  (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

Griner knocked down her first two field goals of the night.

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