America’s Brittney Griner said she “definitely” felt the love from the fans when they made her return to action for the Phoenix Mercury.
United States Vice President Kamala Harris hugged Griner courtside before a WNBA game in Los Angeles.
“The love from the fans that came out was amazing,” Griner said.
“I really feel it, and I felt it when I was there.”
Griner won the tip and, despite being on the far side, was delighted when he hit a 17-foot jumper to help his side take an early 7-0 lead.
“I felt good, I felt really good. It felt like the last time I played,” he said.
Griner scored 18 points and grabbed six rebounds but the Phoenix Mercury were beaten 94-71 by the Los Angeles Sparks in their season opener.
Harris spoke to the Phoenix Mercury team in their locker room before the game, where tennis legend Billie Jean King, LA Lakers icon Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson and LA Lakers head coach Darvin Ham were also at the game.
Griner, a two-time Olympic champion, is one of the most famous basketball players in the world.
He was playing in the Russian Premier League when he was arrested at Moscow airport in February 2022 for possession of cannabis oil. He pleaded guilty, and was sentenced to nine years in prison and sent to a penitentiary.
In all, he spent 10 months in Russian custody before the US government made a deal with Russia to free him on behalf of Viktor Bout, a notorious Russian arms dealer.
His appearance against the LA Sparks came a week after a pre-season game against the same opposition.
“I appreciate everything a little bit more now,” added Griner.
“Every little, little thing. I was like, ‘oh, I’m so tired, I don’t want to go to practice today’. I think it’s changed.
“I’m just grateful for everything because tomorrow is never guaranteed. You never know what it’s going to look like.”