L.A. Sparks Players Share Love for Brittney Griner as They Prepare to Face Off in Her First Game Back

The Phoenix Mercury and Los Angeles Sparks play their first game of the season on Friday

WNBA/Instagram; Barry Gossage/NBAE/Getty
WNBA/Instagram; Barry Gossage/NBAE/Getty

Brittney Griner is back, and even her opponents are excited about it.

Griner, 32, will make her official return to the court on Friday night when she plays in the Phoenix Mercury's first game of the season against the Los Angeles Sparks.

Ahead of the matchup, the Sparks posted a sweet video tribute to the Phoenix Mercury star, sharing their favorite things about her off and on the court.

"What I love about having BG back on the floor is that basketball is her safe space," Chiney Ogwumike said in the video. "Growing up in Houston, Texas together, alongside my sister, we followed her career closely and we've supported each other. Just to have her back, it means the world to us."

Chiney's sister Nnneka Ogwumike is also on the Sparks roster for 2023. In the video tribute, Nneka said she wishes she had Griner's "ability to dunk" on the court.

"What I'm most looking forward to about having BG back on the floor, is her dominance in the paint and making everybody else rise up to that level of play," guard Jasmine Thomas said. "We definitely missed her."

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Sparks forward Azura Stevens shared an emotional message during her moment in the video. "There wasn't a day that went by that I didn't think about her and pray for her, for her mental health and wellbeing," said Stevens, 27.

Phoenix Mercury Instagram Brittney Griner
Phoenix Mercury Instagram Brittney Griner

She continued, "So, to see her back on the court right now and just to be able to physically see her, is gonna be — I don't think words will describe the feeling, but I'm looking forward most to just giving her a nice hug."

Related:Brittney Griner Scores 10 Points in First WNBA Preseason Game Since Release: 'Grateful to Be Here'

Griner shared the video tribute on her Instagram Story ahead of her return to the WNBA, writing, "Wow," with a happy tear emoji and a heart emoji.

While Friday's game in Los Angeles will be her official return to the league, Griner played in a pre-season game against the Sparks earlier in the week.

The WNBA player — who missed all of last season while she was imprisoned in Russia for 10 months — played in her first preseason game since her return to the U.S., scoring 10 points and making three rebounds in her team's 90-71 loss to the L.A. Sparks.

Christian Petersen/Getty
Christian Petersen/Getty

"I didn't think I would be sitting right here," the 32-year-old WNBA star told reporters after the game, per Sports Illustrated. "I didn't think I would be playing basketball this quickly. Even coming back, I didn't know how it was going to go getting back into it. I mean, I'm grateful to be here for sure. I'm not going to take today for granted, but it was a lot to take in."

Related:Brittney Griner Meets Joe Biden for the First Time After Prisoner Swap: 'Emotional for Both of Us'

Griner was asked what it felt like to hear the national anthem before the game started.

"Hearing the national anthem, it definitely hit different," Griner shared. "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."

She added: "Being here today ... it means a lot."

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