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After spending more than 300 days in Russian custody last year, the fans in Phoenix made sure the long-awaited return of Brittney Griner would be one for the record books.
Griner previously challenged fans to attend their home opener and the Mercury fanbase, known as the X-Factor, didn’t disappoint. More than 14,000 fans showed up to Footprint Center, nearly double the team’s average attendance last season.
From Phoenix With Love
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.
Far from merely a feel-good game, Griner put up historic stats to go alongside the unforgettable night.
Not only did she score 27 points on an highly efficient 9-12 FG, but she recorded four blocks, one of which etched her in the history books as the third-all time leader in blocked shots, passing Sylvia Fowles.
Back like she never left, the liberated Brittney Griner triumphantly proclaimed, “I’m back!”
“It was emotional. Just hearing and seeing some of the clips. They set me up with that song,” joked Griner, who said she started to cry during the introduction. “Part of the process of healing is letting it out. I got choked up a little bit and I tried to hide it.”
Throughout the stadium, “Free BG” shirts and signs have now been replaced by ”Welcome Home BG” tees.
Though the scoreboard left her team on the losing end, defeated 75-69, the night was an astounding victory for Brittney Griner, the Phoenix Mercury and the WNBA.
USA Today reports the crowd included Griner’s wife, Cherelle, and her parents, Raymond and Sandra Griner, and Roger Carstens, Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs, who all cheered when Griner was introduced to Skylar Grey’s “Coming Home.”
“There might have been a little dust in my eye, a little dusty, said Griner. “It was emotional in the back, seeing some of the clips and then coming out. … It was really good.”