American Brittney Griner, who was released from a Russian penal colony last December as part of a prisoner swap, has signed a one-year contract to play for the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury, the team said on Tuesday.
“It’s a great day for all of us to announce that Brittney Griner has officially signed to play for the Mercury in 2023,” Mercury General Manager Jim Pitman said in a news release.
“We missed BG every day that she was gone and, while basketball was not our primary concern, her presence on the floor, in our locker room, around our organization, and within our community was greatly missed.
“We will continue to use the resources of our organization to support her, on and off the floor, and we are thrilled for her that she gets to return to basketball, which she loves so dearly. This is a special signing and today is a special day for all of us.”
Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist and eight-time Women’s National Basketball Association All-Star, was arrested in February 2022 at an airport outside Moscow for carrying vape cartridges containing hashish oil in her luggage.
She was subsequently convicted of drug smuggling and later transferred to one of Russia’s most notorious penal colonies, where former inmates have described torture, harsh beatings and slave labor conditions.
Griner was released last December in a prisoner swap with Russia in exchange for arms dealer Viktor Bout, a deal that was arranged after months of talks during a time of high tension between the two countries after Russia’s February invasion of Ukraine.
The Mercury begin their 2023 WNBA season on May 19 at the Los Angeles Sparks followed by their home opener on May 21 when the team plans to honor the 32-year-old Griner’s return ahead of their game against the Chicago Sky.
“I do not think any of us will forget where we were on Dec. 8 when we heard BG was coming home or on Dec. 15 when she announced she intended not only to play basketball in 2023 but that it would be for the Mercury,” said Mercury President Vince Kozar. “And I know none of us will ever forget what it will feel like to welcome her back onto her home floor on May 21.
“To know BG is to love and appreciate BG, and we can’t wait to show her that in person with thousands and thousands of her biggest supporters exactly three months from today at our Welcome Home Opener.”
Griner last played for the Mercury in the 2021 WNBA season when she had one of the best years of her career and averaged 20.5 points, 9.5 rebounds and 2.7 assists over 30 games.