Former Baylor star Brittney Griner will return to the basketball court and the WNBA on Friday night as the Phoenix Mercury and the Los Angeles Sparks tip off the 2023 season.
The game will mark Griner’s first WNBA game since Game 4 of the 2021 WNBA Finals and her first basketball game since January 2022. Griner was detained in Russia for 10 months after customs officials discovered cannabis oil and vape cartridges while Griner traveled through Sheremetyevo Airport near Moscow.
The U.S. government eventually secured her release through a prisoner exchange, and she returned home in December.
“This is a day we’ve worked toward for a long time,” U.S. President Joe Biden said upon her release. “We never stopped pushing for her release. It took painstaking and intense negotiations, and I want to thank all the hardworking public servants across my administration who worked tirelessly to secure her release.”
Griner committed to return to the WNBA in February and re-signed with the Mercury on a one-year contract, as was previously reported by The Dallas Express.
“I’m just so grateful every time I see [Griner] because we know what she was going through,” Mercury Head Coach Vanessa Nygaard said in a press conference earlier this week. “That miracle, I hold onto, and I just want to give her all the love and support that we can as a group to help her get to where she wants to be. I know that as she travels about throughout the ‘W’ this year, there’s going to be so much love.”
Griner joined Phoenix as the first overall pick in the 2013 WNBA Draft after a stellar career at Baylor.
She has made seven All-Star teams in nine WNBA seasons and won two WNBA Defensive Player of the Year Awards and a WNBA title while averaging 17.7 points and 7.6 rebounds.
During her most recent season, Griner averaged a career-high 9.5 rebounds and tied her third-highest point average at 20.5 per game.
Griner is scheduled to make her long-awaited return to the basketball court at 10 p.m. Friday in Los Angeles. Phoenix returns home to play the Chicago Sky on Sunday.