For the first time in 579 days, Brittney Griner took the floor for the Phoenix Mercury on Friday night. The veteran center missed the entire 2022 season while she was detained in Russia on drug charges and did not return home until December. She made it clear immediately that she wanted to play this season, though, and worked tirelessly over the past five months to be ready for opening night.
Unfortunately for Griner and the Mercury, the result didn't go their way. Even though they fell to the Los Angeles Sparks, 94-71, seeing Griner back on the floor and doing what she loves meant more than the result. She finished with 18 points, six rebounds and four blocks.
The festivities started pre-game when Vice President Kamala Harris visited the Mercury locker room. Harris and the U.S. State Department were instrumental in bringing Griner home from Russia.
When play began, it didn't take long for Griner to make an impact. She scored or assisted on the Mercury's first seven points, and hit a smooth mid-range jumper for her first basket back.
"I mean, you come to work you gotta put everything aside," Griner said during an interview at the end of the first quarter. "Pro, office job, custodian, you put everything behind you and just go to work. It felt good. It felt real good. It felt like the last time I played, hitting that elbow shot."
She also noted how much some minutes in a preseason game earlier this month helped her be ready for the real deal.
"Great, because of that preseason game," Griner said. "That was not BG. That was horrible defense on the defensvie end, so I knew I had to pick it up this game."
From a personal perspective, Griner's first game back went as well as she could have hoped. She was knocking down shots, rebounding and making a difference on the defensive side of the ball. If you didn't already know about her absence, you would not have guessed you were watching someone play for the first time in nearly two years.