Brittney Griner says the national anthem ‘hit different’ on her return to court after release from a Russian penal colony ahead of the Mercury’s WNBA season opener
Brittney Griner said hearing the national anthem ‘hit different’ following her detainment in a Russian penal colony after she made her return to court.
Griner returned to action back on her home court for the first time since her release from her detainment in a Russian penal colony Friday night in a preseason matchup against the LA Sparks.
The 6-foot-9 center took to the court to a huge ovation from the crowd, giving hugs and high-fiving her teammates, coaches and opposing players.
Prior to the tipoff, Griner and her teammates stood for the national anthem, and the crowd gave out a loud cheer as the No. 1 pick of the 2013 WNBA Draft was announced.
The 32-year-old insisted following the game that being able to be playing basketball back on home soil meant a lot.
Brittney Griner said hearing the national anthem ‘hit different’ after her return to court
The Phoenix Mercury star lined up with her teammates for the national anthem pre-game
The 6-foot-9 center high-fived her teammates as she took to court to a standing ovation
‘Hearing the national anthem, it definitely hit different,’ Griner said. ‘It’s like when you go for the Olympics, you’re sitting there, about to get gold put on your neck, the flags are going up, and the anthem is playing, it just hits different.
‘Being here today … it means a lot.’
In July 2020, in response to the social justice protests that were being staged around the United States, Griner said she didn’t feel that the anthem should be played during the season, adding that she didn’t mean any ‘disrespect to our country.’
Griner was arrested at an airport outside Moscow with what Russian security claimed were cartridges of hash oil.
Her on-court appearance came five months after her release in prisoner swap that allowed arms dealer Viktor Bout to return to his native Russia on December 8.
She re-signed with the Mercury in February following her release, returning to the WNBA for a 10th season, all with Phoenix.
‘We looked at each other, and we just had chills,’ Mercury coach Vanessa Nygaard said. ‘We were here last year for all of it. I’m getting emotional about it now. Just to see her back out there — it’s an absolute miracle. It was amazing. It’s giving me chills again.’
Mercury coach Vanessa Nygaard (left) said it gave her chills to see Griner back on court
Griner drives at Sparks forward Chiney Ogwumike in the first half of a preseason WNBA game
Griner had 10 and three rebounds in her first taste of basketball action after being released
Once the game started, Griner immediately went to work, scoring on a turnaround jumper early in the first quarter. A few minutes later, she was fouled on another turnaround and sank both free throws.
Griner added three rebounds in 17 minutes but said she was more rusty on the court than expected.
‘Not where I want it to be, but on the right track,’ Griner said. ‘We’re making the right moves.’
Now that the WNBA season is just around the corner, with the Mercury’s opening game against the Sparks to be broadcasted on ESPN on May 19, Phoenix will hope Griner’s return will rekindle hope that the franchise can make another run to the Finals.