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‘I got choked up a little bit,’ says Brittney Griner after playing for Phoenix Mercury in home WNBA opener

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By Jacob Lev and Thomas Schlachter, CNN

(CNN) — After spending more than 300 days in Russian custody last year, Brittney Griner made an emotional return to her WNBA home court in the Phoenix Mercury’s 75-69 defeat by the Chicago Sky.

Before tip-off at the Footprint Center in Phoenix on Sunday, the Mercury players were introduced to their home fans and Griner received an incredible response when her name was called last.

The crowd went crazy in applause as she ran onto the court while giving her teammates high fives.

“There might have been a little dust in my eye, a little dusty,” Griner told reporters after the game. “It was emotional in the back, seeing some of the clips and then coming out. … It was really good.

“Part of the process of healing is kind of just letting it out. So yeah, I got choked up a little bit but try to hide it but I see you caught it.”

Despite the loss, Griner put on a show for her home crowd and dominated in the defeat.

The 6-foot-9-inch center scored 27 points on 9-13 shooting, to go with 10 rebounds, as she notched an impressive double-double.

‘BG home’

There were 14,040 fans in attendance at the Footprint Center, according to the team, who all showed their support for Griner throughout the game.

The US Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs Roger Carstens was also at the match.

Carstens joined Griner at the podium after the game, alongside Representative Shelia Jackson Lee, and said it was “emotional” for them both seeing Griner on the court.

“When BG came out, I think it was an emotional moment for both of us,” Carstens said. “I can tell you from where I sit and where the team sits in Washington DC, we knew that this day was going to come. We knew it was going to be hard. It was going to take some time but what we saw today is exactly how I pictured it.

“BG home. Cherelle (Griner’s wife) cheering her on. BG’s family in the crowd and BG back on the court, doing what BG does best which is playing basketball. “

Carstens was also asked about what he learned from Griner’s case and how it could help bring others back to the United States.

“When you bring someone home, it’s never just the people in my office doing it,” Carstens said. “To me, Brittney’s case was kind of like a textbook example of that.

“This is not only an example of how everyone comes together to bring an American home, an Olympian home but it also showcases the fact that this is important to the nation, it’s important to the President, it’s important to the Secretary of State but it wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t important to this room.

“Whether it’s BG or whether it’s Paul Whelan, who still remains in Russia or now Evan Gershkovich, who’s also now in Russia. We are not going to take our foot off the gas. We are going to keep pushing and it’s going to be us that eventually brings everyone home.”

The Mercury’s next game is on Thursday as they take on the Minnesota Lynx in the WNBA.

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