WASHINGTON (AP) – Brittney Griner waved to fans who applauded her as she walked onto the court, embraced Elena Della Donne and signed an autograph before taking a seat on the bench. A video tribute and standing ovation followed at the ﬁrst timeout.
A hip injury prevented Griner from playing for the Phoenix Mercury against the Washington Mystics on Friday night. Still, Griner was embraced by opponents and the sellout crowd in her ﬁrst public appearance in the nation’s capital since returning from her imprisonment in Russia, down the road from many of the folks in the U.S. government who worked to get her home.
"That was a hard time for all of us," said Washington guard Shatori Walker- Kimbrough, who played the 2020 season with Griner in Phoenix. ”Just knowing her, just knowing her character, knowing her heart, it was just really tough. It’s just an honor and a blessing to see her out, to give her a hug, to talk to her, to hear her voice. And, honestly, she looks great."
Griner was ruled out roughly 20 minutes before tip-off after being listed as doubtful on the injury report Thursday. A team spokesperson said Griner would not speak to reporters if she did not play.
It’s the ﬁrst time Griner has missed a game this season, her ﬁrst back in the WNBA since spending eight months in jail in Russia on drug charges. She was freed in December in a high-proﬁle prisoner exchange, following a saga that began with her arrest when Russian authorities saying Griner carried vape canisters with cannabis oil into the country.
While work was going on behind the scenes to negotiate her freedom, the WNBA rallied around Griner in the hope she’d be back on the court.
"We’re all grateful and happy that she’s back,” Mystics center Shakira Austin said. ”I don’t think the love, really, has stopped. I hope she feels it."
Griner in eight games this season has averaged over 20 points and nearly eight rebounds, looking well on her way to being named an All-Star for the eighth time.