Women’s basketball champion Brittney Griner returned to the court last week for the first time in nearly a year after her highly-publicized run-in with the Russian legal system.
Griner would eventually be freed to return home to the U.S. after the Biden administration exchanged her for the infamous Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, believed to be the inspiration of the Nicolas Cage film Lord of War.
As Griner walked out onto the court, the crowd in attendance applauded and cheered, but what was very noticeable was the large number of empty seats during Friday night’s preseason matchup between the Phoenix Mercury and the LA Sparks.
Brittney Griner introduced in front of the home crowd in Phoenix…
I know it’s preseason, but I got chills…
BG is back.@Sports360AZ @brittneygriner #WNBATwitter pic.twitter.com/yZ8TqFFUsR
— Eliav Gabay (@eliavgabay) May 13, 2023
During a recent episode of Sports Wars, host Ryan Kinel and co-host John Matrixx pointed out the small turnout that came to witness Griner’s “big” return.
“Brittany Griner has been the topic when it comes to the WNBA, which considering no one really talks about the WNBA or has talked about the WNBA for years and years, no surprise that when someone gets arrested in Russia for bringing drugs into Russia,” said Kinel, “every single person that cares about social justice, identity politics in the United States does a big virtue signal for her.”
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Kinel then pulled up a video posted to Twitter showing the turnout for the game, which was a lot lower than most people would expect for such a return given the international attention Griner’s imprisonment received.
“Clearly some people are cheering,” Kinel observed, “but if you look, there’s no one here… the seats look pretty empty. I don’t know that’s just me, uh, the seats look fairly empty here.”
“This is a little sad and pathetic to be perfectly honest,” said Matrixx. “That is bad man. Nobody cares about the WNBA. And the only reason we’re talking about this is because of Brittney Griner and not the WNBA. People after 27 years are still not showing up to the WNBA.”
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The game didn’t go as planned for the Mercury either, with some expecting them to easily secure a victory due to the energized enthusiasm of Griner being back on the court. The Mercury lost to the Sparks by a score of 90 to 71.
Despite this, Griner did mention to reporters that either way, she was happy to return to the court and play. Also notable is her very different tune on the National Anthem. The former National Anthem protester has a new view of her country since the Russia debacle.
“Hearing the national anthem, it definitely hit different,” said Griner. “It’s like when you go for the Olympics.”
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