Griner, Mercury set to tip off WNBA season after her return from detainment in Russia

PHOENIX — Brittney Griner’s life and career path have taken a sharp turn over the past 18 months following a nearly 10-month detainment in Russia on drug-related charges that ended with a prisoner swap in December.

To say the Phoenix Mercury center’s journey has been complicated would be an understatement.


Now, the next chapter will be for everyone to see how good a basketball player she still is.

The early returns suggest that the 31-year-old remains a formidable talent, even if she’s understandably a bit rusty. She scored 10 points and grabbed three rebounds in her only preseason game against the Los Angeles Sparks on Friday, flashing her considerable skills but also showing there’s some work to do.

“Coach keeps telling me to give myself grace,” Griner said. “But that’s hard.”

The WNBA regular season begins Friday.

With all that has happened off the court, it’s easy to forget Griner had arguably her best season in 2021. She finished second in the MVP voting after averaging 20.5 points, 9.5 rebounds and nearly two blocks per game. She was a major reason the Mercury reached the WNBA Finals before losing to the Chicago Sky.

Mercury coach Vanessa Nygaard said she has been amazed by Griner’s ability to bounce back from an experience few athletes could fathom.

“This is a person who has been off for more than a year and she’s been battling really hard, and I thought she did some really good stuff,” Nygaard said. “I thought she did some great stuff, she’s super engaged, and it was a really joyful day for her and her family.”

Even though Griner said she had “a few more cobwebs than I thought” after her first preseason game, there’s little doubt her return is a huge positive for the Mercury. Without Griner last season, Phoenix finished with a 15-21 record.

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