Brittney Griner puts on a show in emotional homecoming game

Phoenix, Arizona - Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner put on an emphatic 27-point performance in her first home game for nearly two years, but it wasn't enough to stop her team going down 75-69 to the Chicago Sky.

Phoenix Mercury star Brittney Griner put on an emphatic 27-point performance in her first home game for nearly two years.
Phoenix Mercury star Brittney Griner put on an emphatic 27-point performance in her first home game for nearly two years.  © USA TODAY Sports via Reuters Connect

It was an emotional night that saw the long-awaited return of the 32-year-old, who was detained for 10 months in Russia.

The celebrations started with Griner sinking a three-pointer, before turning to the crowd and roaring a message she had waited 597 days to deliver: "I'm back!"

After the game, she said: "I never try to get tied up into all the outside stuff, trying to say 'I'm back' – granted, I did say that after that three."

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"Starting off the game, my mindset was that if I'm the first option, I've got to go score it. If I'm not, I need to get my player open. … None of that is ever going to change."

After making her regular-season return to the WNBA in a road game Friday against the Los Angeles Sparks, Griner's return to Phoenix marked another step in her comeback.

Her first home game was one big party in her honor, with shirts featuring her profile, billboards throughout downtown Phoenix, and the song Coming Home playing as she walked out to cheers during player introductions.

"They set me up with that song – oh my God," Griner joked. "Part of the process of healing was just kind of letting it out. So, yeah, I got choked up a little bit."

Brittney Griner's coach shows his appreciation

Griner was detained for 10 months in Russia on a minor drug charge.
Griner was detained for 10 months in Russia on a minor drug charge.  © USA TODAY Sports via Reuters Connect

Just like Griner, Sky coach James Wade didn't want to get emotional.

He knew it was inevitable. But in the minutes before he headed onto the court, Wade tried his best to focus on the game at hand.

Wade spent two years in Russia with Griner, who played for him with UMMC Ekaterinburg, with whom she was playing at the time of her detainment. In that time, he forged a deep respect for Griner on and off the court. Her absence hung over every moment of preparation for last year's games against the Mercury – scouting film without Griner in it, scouting the players who were holding her place.

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The last time Wade saw his former player was in October 2021. The Sky had just defeated Griner and the Mercury in Game 4 of the WNBA Finals to win their first championship. And even in the wake of the loss, Griner found a moment to tell Wade she was proud of him.

"That's how nice of a person and sweet of a person she is," Wade said. "I appreciate that everybody has gotten to know that person too."

Cover photo: USA TODAY Sports via Reuters Connect

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