Brittney Griner met with pledge for retired jersey, standing ovation in Texas return

For Brittney Griner, this WNBA season has and will continue to feature plenty of long-awaited returns. When she took the court for Phoenix Mercury’s matchup with the Dallas Wings on Wednesday, the 32-year-old checked a special one off the list.

Playing in her home state for the first time since being detained in a Russian prison for 10 months, she recorded 24 points in the Mercury's 84-79 loss to the Wings at College Park Center in Arlington, Texas. The stadium is just under two hours from Baylor, where she played from 2009-2013.

While the loss brought the Mercury’s record down to 1-4 for the season, the Houston native had some reasons to smile in the postgame news conference.

In addition to her homecoming being met with a pledge for her jersey to finally be retired at Baylor, she received a standing ovation from fans during her introduction before the game.

After the loss, Griner told reporters "the love" she felt when she took the court was touching. "This game meant a lot," Griner said. "I really wanted to get this [win]. We've got another shot at them in another day."

Griner notched an NCAA-record 748 blocks at Baylor. She also recorded 3,283 points and 1,305 rebounds as she helped the program make it to the Final Four twice.

When her time there ended, she had a falling out with now-LSU head coach Kim Mulkey. When Mulkey was still head coach at Baylor, she insisted that Griner's No. 42 jersey couldn't hang in the rafters until she earned a degree.

Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner smiles as she responds to questions during a news conference after the team's WNBA basketball game against the Dallas Wings, Wednesday, June 7, 2023, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner smiled as she responds to questions after the team's game against the Dallas Wings. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Mulkey left to lead LSU to a title last season, and Griner has officially graduated. Nicki Collen took over at Baylor in May 2021. She's faced Griner as an opposing WNBA head coach and assistant, and she sees no reason why her jersey shouldn't be retired.

"That's the goal," she said. "We're opening a new arena. There's no doubt that I want to see her jersey in the rafters."

Foster Pavilion is scheduled to open in January 2024 to host both of Baylor's basketball teams. As Griner expressed her gratitude and appreciation for Texas, Baylor and its fans, she emphasized that there's no bad blood with her alma mater.

"I know a lot of people think it's a hate relationship or something and it's not. It's not a hate relationship. I played some of my best basketball there," she said in the postgame news conference.

Griner has an opportunity to play more great basketball when she and the Mercury play the Wings again on Friday in search of their second win of the season.