Mercury will respect Brittney Griner’s process of recovery, Nygaard says

Dec 9, 2022, 10:04 AM
New Phoenix Mercury head coach Vanessa Nygaard wears a T-shirt referring to player Brittney Griner ...

New Phoenix Mercury head coach Vanessa Nygaard wears a T-shirt referring to player Brittney Griner before a WNBA basketball game against the Las Vegas Aces, Friday, May 6, 2022, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Darryl Webb)

(AP Photo/Darryl Webb)

Phoenix Mercury head coach Vanessa Nygaard said in an interview with CNN on Friday that the team will allow center Brittney Griner to take her time recuperating after being freed from a nearly 10-month prison stay in Russia.

Griner returned to the United States on Friday morning, arriving at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston in Texas. She was taken to Brooke Army Medical Center for a “routine evaluation,” officials told CNN.

What comes next for Griner isn’t known, but the Mercury and WNBA communities will allow her to choose when to take the next step of reaching out. WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert and Nygaard have both said they are giving her space.

“We’re going to respect her process, her family’s wishes, and make sure she has all the support,” Nygaard said on CNN. “Mental health is very important in our league as well as maybe the physical conditions she’s been under. We want to support her, give her the space she needs and make sure she’s feeling OK. When she’s ready, we’re ready to celebrate with her.”

Griner was sentenced to nine years in prison after she was found carrying vape cartridges that had cannabis oil in them.

The United States and Russia completed an exchange of Griner for convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout early Thursday. The prisoner swap was confirmed by President Joe Biden early Thursday, and the Mercury held a team meeting following the news.

Griner’s return has lifted a weight off her teammates’ and coaches’ shoulders, according to Nygaard.

“Every day for us in the season, when we went to other arenas, the story of BG was that game,” the head coach said. “For us, it was every single day that we thought about her, that we missed her. For my players that were teammates with her a very long time, you know, you go into a city and something would remind them of her: The locker room, maybe a place they would go to dinner. Every day they would carry that with them.”

As for Griner’s basketball future, determining her status there is many steps down the road.

The Mercury are relieved she is back home.

“I know she absolutely loves basketball and she’s the most dominant player in the world,” Nygaard said. “If she chooses to continue to play, we absolutely want to support her. But this isn’t really the time for that.

“We’re just glad she’s back, we’re just so happy she’s reunited with her family and we get to move forward. And her health and her safety is the most important thing.”

Phoenix Mercury

Incoming Phoenix Suns owner Mat Ishbia is seen with his family during the game against the Indiana ...
Arizona Sports

Mat Ishbia’s purchase of Phoenix Suns approved by NBA vote

Mat Ishbia's transaction for the purchase of the Phoenix Suns has been approved by the NBA, the league confirmed Monday.
1 day ago
Kia Nurse #0 of the Phoenix Mercury drives against Tiffany Hayes #15 of the Atlanta Dream during th...
Austin Scott

Former Mercury guard Kia Nurse signs with Seattle Storm

After a two-year stint with the Phoenix Mercury and rehabbing an ACL tear, veteran guard Kia Nurse is signing with the Seattle Storm.
4 days ago
Sophie Cunningham #9 of the Phoenix Mercury reacts to three-point shot against the Las Vegas Aces d...
Alex Weiner

Sophie Cunningham agrees to re-sign with Phoenix Mercury, per reports

WNBA restricted free agent Sophie Cunningham agreed to return to the Phoenix Mercury on a two-year contract, multiple outlets reported.
5 days ago
(AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)...
Associated Press

Griner return, free agency could spark charter flight change

If Brittney Griner needs special travel accommodation, the league will have to come up with a plan for the Phoenix Mercury star.
5 days ago
United States' Diana Taurasi, left, and Brittney Griner take part in a women's basketball practice ...
Associated Press

Diana Taurasi to attend USA Basketball camp next month

Phoenix Mercury free agent Diana Taurasi will attend USA Basketball camp in Minnesota next month in preparation for the 2024 Olympics.
7 days ago
Monica Wright #22 of the Seattle Storm handles the ball against the Los Angeles Sparks during a WNB...
Arizona Sports

Mercury hire Monica Wright Rogers as assistant general manager

The Phoenix Mercury on Friday hired former WNBA player Monica Wright Rogers as an assistant general manager.
1 month ago
Mercury will respect Brittney Griner’s process of recovery, Nygaard says