Brittney Griner returned to the WNBA hardwood on Friday night in Los Angeles to cheers from a raucous crowd that included U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris.
The mood was celebratory as Griner, who was released from a Russian penal colony in a high profile prisoner exchange with the U.S. late last year, was embraced by Harris on the court before the game.
Griner looked emotional when she was introduced and despite her Phoenix Mercury being the visiting team, saw the crowd erupt when she hit a 17-foot jumper on her first attempt of the contest.
“It felt good, it felt real good. It felt like the last time I played,” a smiling Griner said of making the shot after missing all of last season while detained in Russia for nearly 10 months.
“The love from the fans who came out was amazing,” she told reporters after the game.
“I definitely feel it, and I felt it while I was over there too.”
Outside the arena, Nike billboards displayed a photo of Griner with the caption “Basketball is Home.”
Griner was taken into custody at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport and subsequently convicted of narcotics possession and trafficking after she was found to have been carrying vape cartridges containing hashish oil in her luggage. She was subsequently sentenced to nine years in prison.
She said she was prescribed medical cannabis in the United States for a chronic injury and never intended to break the law. U.S. officials said she was wrongly detained and was being used as a political pawn amid increasingly strained relations with Moscow.
“I appreciate everything a little bit more now,” Griner said.
“All the little, small moments. I used to say, oh I’m so tired, I don’t want to go to practice today. I think that has changed.