May 23, 2023 

Sights and sounds from Brittney Griner’s first home game of 2023

'What we saw today was exactly how I pictured BG home'

PHOENIX — Brittney Griner paced in the bowels of the Footprint Center as spoken word poet Jay Tatum delivered a striking message of resiliency to the crowd prior to Sunday afternoon’s home opener, a 75-69 loss to the Chicago Sky.

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Griner’s Phoenix Mercury’s teammates were then introduced to the fans setting up Griner, who was wrongfully detained in a Russian prison all of last season, to be announced last. Skylar Grey’s “Coming Home” hit with a short video. Griner paused for a moment to flash an “X” sign with her arms, which Mercury players will do from time-to-time to show appreciation to the team-dubbed X-Factor fanbase. She was announced and ran out to the floor to an emphatic standing ovation from a crowd, a sea of 42s.

“It was emotional in the back,” Griner told reporters following the game. “Just hearing, seeing some of the clips and then coming out. … It was really good. Part of the process of healing is just kind of letting it out.”

A great crowd of 14,040 fans were in attendance for the “Welcome Home Opener” as Griner, playing in her first home regular season game since 2021, and the Mercury (0-2) took on the Chicago Sky (2-0).

The moment was not too big for Griner. She hit the first bucket of the game on a spinning post move, scoring despite being fouled, leading to another strong ovation from the fans. She converted the free throw to top the play off.

Griner carried the Mercury as she was the only Phoenix starter to put together a good performance in the team’s 75-69 loss. She dropped 27 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and blocked four shots. She was 9-for-13 from the field and 8-for-9 from the foul line.

“(I) just continue to be impressed with BG,” said Mercury head coach Vanessa Nygaard. “BG is somebody that can handle so many things, clearly, that many people could not handle. … Really happy to have her back on the court tonight and just to feel the love from all of our fans.”

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Perhaps the loudest ovation for Griner on Sunday was in the third quarter. She hit just the seventh 3-pointer of her career and the fans roared. She turned toward the side of the arena facing the benches, mouthing “I’m back.”

Griner discussed the moment with fans after the 3-pointer following the game.

“That moment was very special,” Griner said. “Honestly, it took me back to my last season playing. Just felt really good, honestly. It was a crazy moment.”

As for the fans in attendance, it was not as star-studded as Friday’s game in Los Angeles but there were some prominent local and national figures in the house. Former NBA player and current television analyst Jalen Rose, team owner Mat Ishbia, Olympic gold medal-winning swimmer Simone Manuel, Suns guard Damion Lee and Suns forward Ish Wainright were in the building. Neda Sharghi, chair of the steering committee of Bring Our Families Home, was in attendance.

Roger D. Carstens, Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs, was in the building as well. He helped free Brittney Griner from her wrongful detainment and discussed what being there on Sunday was like for him.

“We knew that this day was going to come,” Carstens said. “We knew it was going to be hard, it would take some time. But what we saw today was exactly how I pictured BG home. (Griner’s wife) Cherelle (Griner), BG’s family, the crowd and BG back on the court doing what she does best and that’s playing basketball.”

Griner is back safely, she has played her first preseason game, she has played her first regular season game and she has played her first regular season home game. But the team has struggled through two games. Phoenix had 18 turnovers on Sunday and 19 on Friday against the Sparks. The Mercury have lost the rebounding battle in back-to-back games, losing it 39-29 on Sunday. Father Time remains undefeated as it seems to have defeated 40-year-old Diana Taurasi, who seems far from the greatest player of all-time. She appears to have the same mindset she had when she was thrown into the G.O.A.T. debate earlier in her career but she is not able to do what she is trying to do on the court consistently. On Sunday, she was a team-low minus-18 while shooting just 5-of-17 from the field.

The Mercury’s next chance to right the ship is Thursday at home against the Minnesota Lynx (0-1). The game is scheduled for 10 p.m. ET / 7 p.m. PT.

Written by Jesse Morrison

Jesse Morrison covers the Phoenix Mercury for The Next. A native of Roanoke, Va., Jesse moved to Arizona in 2017 to attend the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University, graduating in 2021 with a degree in sports journalism. Outside of The Next, Jesse works for Arizona Sports, co-hosting an Arizona State podcast, producing a radio show and writing for their website.

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