Brittney Griner returned to the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) on Friday, playing in her first competitive game since her 10-month detainment in Russian prison on drug charges.
Griner was arrested in February 2022 at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport and charged with attempting to smuggle narcotics into Russia after law enforcement caught her in possession of vape canisters with hash oil, which she claimed she used for medical reasons.
Griner pled guilty to the charge but emphasized that she had no intention to break Russian law, and many experts considered her a point of leverage for Russia in its negotiations with the international community following President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine the same month as the arrest.
Griner was released in December of that same year after a detention of nearly 10 months in a 1-for-1 prisoner exchange with Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, nicknamed the “Merchant of Death” for his unscrupulous selling of weapons in violation of international embargoes.
Griner was greeted with enthusiastic applause when she was introduced into Friday’s game, her first competitive match since the 2021 WNBA Finals. The game last Friday saw Griner’s team, the Phoenix Mercury, square off against the Los Angeles Sparks.
Previously, the athletic giant had spoken out in criticism of the U.S. national anthem being played before basketball games during the turbulent summer of 2020 when pent-up coronavirus ennui and racial tensions flared up in a fiery but mostly peaceful blaze. However, Griner seemed humbled by her detainment in the Russian Federation, striking a very different chord when she spoke about hearing “The Star Spangled Banner” before Friday’s game.
“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.”
Emboldened perhaps by her newfound sense of patriotism, Griner added three rebounds in the span of 17 minutes, though her efforts were not to her satisfaction, with Griner lamenting that she was “rusty” after nearly a year in a Slavic prison. Her team ultimately lost the match with a final score of 71–90.
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