Brittney Griner Makes Triumphant Return in Her First WNBA All-Star Game Since Russian Detention | WATCH

Brittney Griner (Lucas Peltier-USA Today Network-Reuters)
Brittney Griner (Lucas Peltier-USA Today Network-Reuters)

*(CNN) — Phoenix Mercury superstar Brittney Griner marked a successful return to the WNBA All-Star Game on Saturday, her first since being released from a Russian penal colony last December.

The nine-time WNBA All-Star Griner finished with 18 points, including scoring her team’s first six points and dunking twice, in Team Stewart’s 143-127 avenging victory over Team Wilson at the 2023 All-Star Game in Las Vegas.

“It meant everything to me,” Griner said in front of a sell-out crowd after the game. “I didn’t think that I would be here today, honestly but everybody sending letters, sending love, posting. I’m still seeing it to this day everything that everybody did. It really meant a lot to me, it gave me hope it made me not want to just give it up for anything, so it was this league that helped me out.”

Griner’s arrest last year in Russia sparked diplomatic drama between the US and the Kremlin that played out alongside Russia’s war in Ukraine. Griner was sentenced to nine years in prison in early August and was moved to a penal colony before being released in a prisoner swap in December.

“I just love being here, I love competing, I love just doing everything for the fans. They do everything for us. We wouldn’t be here without them,” Griner said. “I’m just honored to be on this court.”

Team Stewart was captained by New York Liberty’s Breanna Stewart, who finished with nine points and nine assists, while Team Wilson was led by reigning league MVP A’ja Wilson of the Las Vegas Aces. Wilson finished with 20 points in the loss.

Wilson’s team defeated the Stewart-captained team at last year’s All-Star Game in Chicago.

The WNBA’s leading scorer this season, Jewell Loyd of the Seattle Storm, earned MVP honors after scoring an All-Star Game record 31 points and 10 three pointers for Team Stewart, while adding four rebounds and six assists in the victory.

The “Gold Mamba’s” 31 points broke the prior record of 30 points held by Maya Moore and last year’s All-Star Game MVP, Kelsey Plum.

“Threes are more than twos, I think I told Sabrina [Ionescu] that I’m going to put a lot of threes up,” Loyd said after the game on breaking the record. “It’s a special moment honestly, it’s beautiful for the league and I’m happy I was able to do it for my family.”

WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert announced on Saturday that Phoenix will be the host city for the 2024 WNBA All-Star Game.

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