Phoenix Mercury coach Vanessa Nygaard expressed her disappointment with Los Angeles fans for not selling out Crypto.com Arena during Brittney Griner’s first WNBA game since her release from Russian detention.
Nygaard called out the spectators, stating that she expected more support for Griner. In the game against the Los Angeles Sparks, the Mercury and Griner made their season debut in front of thousands of fans. While this attendance was above the 2022 average for WNBA games of around 5,700, it fell short of a sellout.
Despite Vice President Kamala Harris being present to greet Griner and the crowd giving her a warm ovation, Nygaard expressed her dissatisfaction with the turnout.
Nygaard questioned why the arena was not sold out for Griner, emphasizing her expectation for greater support from the Los Angeles community.
Although the atmosphere was great and loud, Nygaard believed that a sellout crowd would have been more fitting. The Mercury ended up losing to the Sparks with a final score of 94-71.
Griner, a highly decorated player and six-time All-Star, had endured nearly 10 months of detention in Russia before her release. She made a strong comeback in her first regular-season game, contributing 18 points and six rebounds.
Griner’s detainment resulted from her arrest at a Moscow airport in February 2022, where Russian officials found vape cartridges containing cannabis oil in her luggage. She was eventually freed in December through a high-profile prisoner swap.
In a subsequent game against the Chicago Sky, Griner scored an impressive 27 points. The contest took place at the Footprint Center in Phoenix, marking Griner’s return to her home court since October 2021.
The reception from the crowd, with a turnout of over 14k, moved Nygaard to tears as she witnessed the overwhelming support for Griner’s return.
The contrasting fan reactions in Los Angeles and Phoenix highlight Nygaard’s disappointment with the turnout in LA. While Griner received an enthusiastic reception in her hometown, Nygaard believed that her return game in Los Angeles should have garnered a sellout crowd, considering Griner’s talent and the significance of her comeback from Russian detention.