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Phoenix Mercury star Brittney Griner recently returned to the court for the first time since her detention in Russia, playing 17 minutes in a preseason game against the Los Angeles Sparks. She finished with 10 points and three rebounds in a loss, but the outcome was irrelevant considering the circumstances. 

It was encouraging to see Griner playing basketball again after missing the entire 2022 season and spending almost 300 days in Russian custody. She only returned to the United States in December via a prisoner swap, and has had little time to try and find some normalcy and get back in playing shape before the season. 

Getting a chance to suit up again meant a lot to the eight-time All-Star, as did hearing the national anthem. 

"I'm grateful to be here, that's for sure. I'm not going to take a day for granted," Griner said after the 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. … Being here today … it means a lot."

Griner's comments differ from ones she made earlier in her career. During the 2020 season in the bubble, Griner wondered why the anthem was played prior to games and protested by not coming out for the anthem. Her quotes at the time camd amidst widespread protests in support of Breonna Taylor. 

"I honestly feel we should not play the national anthem during our season," Griner said. "I think we should take that much of a stand. I don't mean that in any disrespect to our country. My dad was in Vietnam and a law officer for 30 years. I wanted to be a cop before basketball. I do have pride for my country.

"I personally don't think it belongs in sports. When the national anthem deemed the National Anthem (in 1931), Black people didn't have rights at that point. It's hard disrespecting a song that didn't even represent all Americans when it was first made."

The 2023 WNBA season will begin on Friday, May 19. Griner and the Mercury will be in action that night when they take on the Sparks again.