Brittney Grinder, the US basketball player who spent time in Russian prisons, has played her first professional league match since then.
The 32-year old had not played with her Phoenix Mercury teammates in a game since 2021.
After being arrested on drug charges in February 2022, the two-time Olympic medalist was released in a Russian prison in as part of a high-profile prisoner swap.
Griner made her presence known on Friday, helping to give her team an early advantage against the Los Angeles Sparks. They were ultimately defeated, losing 94-71.
She was also hugged by US Vice President Kamala Harris who attended the match.
The Phoenix coach Vanessa Nygaard has opened her pregame remarks for the first time in the last season without announcing Griner’s jail term.
She continued: “Today, I am filled with joy.” A truly amazing thing happened.
“We brought this Black, Gay woman back from a Russian prison and America did it because they valued and valued her. She’s also a female sportsperson and they valued that.
“To be part of an organization that values people on that level makes me proud to be American.
“I have young children, and that makes me feel really optimistic about our country.”
Griner, her teammates and fans were given a standing applause when they entered the court to warm up before the game. T-shirts bearing her name and number were worn by many of her fans.
Griner returned the applause and patted Griner’s heart during a short video welcoming Griner back to the WNBA.
Magic Johnson, Billie Jean King, and Ilana Klass who is a part owner of the Sparks were all at the game.
Griner’s campaign to free other Americans detained overseas has continued since her release. Griner was already an LGBTQ+ advocate since she publicly came out in 2013.
Nygaard stated: “She represents so many people. So many different types of people that can be overlooked in our society.
She has always stood proud and confident and never shied away from her true self.
Griner announced that she was working with Bring Our Families Home in April. This campaign was formed by family members of American detainees and hostages held abroad.
She said that her team had been in touch with the family members of Wall Street Journal journalist Evan Gershkovich who is currently being held in Russia under espionage allegations.