Brittney Griner made her 2023 WNBA regular-season debut on Friday and the seven-time All-Star immediately made her presence felt.
Griner scored 18 points, grabbed six rebounds, and blocked four shots in her first regular season game since being jailed in Russia for nearly 10 months.
Griner stood for the national anthem before the tip-off against the Los Angeles Sparks, a 94-71 loss for the Mercury.
“You have the right to protest, the right to able to speak out, question, challenge and do all these things,” Griner said, according to ESPN. “What I went through and everything, it just means a little bit more to me now. So I want to be able to stand. I was literally in a cage [in Russia] and could not stand the way I wanted to.
“Just being able to hear my national anthem, see my flag, I definitely want to stand. Now everybody that will not stand or not come out, I totally support them 100 percent. That’s our right, as an American in this great country.”
Griner was arrested in February 2022 at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport after authorities discovered vape canisters with cannabis oil in her luggage.
Her Russian detainment ended in December after months of strained negotiations, with the Biden administration agreeing to exchange Griner for convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.
In 2020, Griner made her stance clear when she said that she did not thing the anthem should be played during the season, and that if the anthem was to be played before the WNBA games, she wouldn’t be present.
After being released from the Russian prison, however, Griner seems to have a different mindset about it.
“I appreciate everything a little bit more, all of the small moments, like, ‘Oh, I’m so tired I don’t want to go to practice today,’ that has changed, honestly,” Griner said. “Tomorrow is not guaranteed, you don’t know what it’s going to look like. I feel a lot older somehow, too.”
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