LOS ANGELE: Brittney Griner made an emotional return to women’s basketball on Friday, playing her first competitive game in nearly two years following her incarceration in Russia. Griner, who was released by Russia as part of a prisoner swap last year, made her first appearance in a WNBA game in 579 days as the Phoenix Mercury faced the Los Angeles Sparks in a season opener in California. US Vice President Kamala Harris was among the well-wishers at the Crypto.com Arena in downtown Los Angeles as the WNBA superstar finally returned to action. The two-time Olympic gold medalist made an instant impression on her return, winning the tip-off and scoring four points as the Mercury jumped into an early 7-0 lead. Griner eventually finished with 18 points and six rebounds but could not prevent Phoenix from slumping to a comprehensive 94-71 loss. The result, however, was almost a footnote to an occasion that Phoenix coach Vanessa Nygaard described as a “day of joy.” Griner, 32, a WNBA champion and LGBTQ trailblazer, was arrested on drug charges at a Moscow airport in February 2022 against a backdrop of soaring tensions over Ukraine.