Crowd size for Brittney Griner's WNBA return baffles coach: 'How was it not a sellout?'

Griner had 18 points and six rebounds in her return

The Phoenix Mercury were on the road to start the 2023 WNBA season as the team took on the Los Angeles Sparks at the Arena in Brittney Griner’s official return to the floor.

Griner had 18 points, six rebounds, four blocks and two assists in Phoenix’s 94-71 loss. But it was a big moment for the former Baylor standout as she returned to the court for the first time since 2021. She missed all of last season as she was jailed in Russia on a drug conviction. She returned to the U.S. in December as part of a prisoner swap for arms dealer Viktor Bout.


Brittney Griner and Vanessa Nygaard

Mercury center Brittney Griner high-fives head coach Vanessa Nygaard during a game at the Footprint Center on May 12, 2023, in Phoenix. (Patrick Breen-USA Today Network)

Because it was her return, Mercury head coach Vanessa Nygaard was expecting a much fuller arena.

"I mean, it was great. But like honestly, c’mon now LA. We didn’t sell out the arena for BG?" Nygaard said. "Like, I expected more, you know, to be honest. Right, it was great, it was loud. But how was it not a sellout? How was it not a sellout?"

Griner said it was nice to be back in a real game but wanted to pick up the win.


Brittney Griner in the post

Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner is defended by Sparks forward Joyner Holmes at Arena in Los Angeles on May 19, 2023. (Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA Today Sports)

"It was nice to be back on the court and in a real game and everything. The love from the fans who came out was amazing and the players. I definitely felt it and I felt it when I was there (Russia)," she said, via the Arizona Republic. "It was nice, but performance-wise, it wasn’t good enough because I couldn’t help the team with a dub."

The arena could fit about 19,068 and about 10,396 people came to the game, according to ESPN. The Sparks’ average attendance is more than 5,600. The team finished 13-23 last season and haven’t been to the playoffs since the 2020 coronavirus-impacted season.

Brittney Griner goes to work

Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner keeps the ball out of the reach of Sparks guard Jordin Canada on May 19, 2023, in Los Angeles. (Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA Today Sports)

The Sparks last won the Finals in 2016.

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