GM: Mercury prepared for heavy media coverage this upcoming season
Brittney Griner’s every move will be followed this upcoming season.
The Phoenix Mercury star, who was detained by Russia for 294 days on drug possession charges before a release in December, re-signed for 2023 this week and will play for the team after missing the entirety of 2022.
For Griner herself, it’s back to the profession she loves.
“Getting a chance to see her and see how well she’s actually physically and mentally doing, we’re just happy that she’s healthy and she’s home and able to be free and living here in Phoenix,” Mercury general manager Jim Pitman told Arizona Sports’ Bickley & Marotta on Wednesday. “The fact that she’s playing basketball is a bonus for us.
“But it’s something I think for her has been a real driver for her to continue to get better. It’s been a real positive for her to play the sport that she loves.”
For the Mercury as a whole, this season will have a completely different feel. Griner back in the fold means her safety will not be weighing on her coaches’ and teammates’ hearts.
But the media attention will likely be intense.
For instance: A still image of Griner back on the practice court Wednesday drew nearly 1 million views on Twitter alone.
There she is 🧡 pic.twitter.com/AM2GZcAIOy
— Phoenix Mercury (@PhoenixMercury) February 21, 2023
A spotlight will be on Phoenix — in WNBA circles that could be for the better.
Not only will Griner’s return help the Mercury’s title chances, but the Mercury’s re-signing of Diana Taurasi will make the on-court product something to watch once again.
Adding to it is the new ownership of Mat Ishbia, who purchased the NBA’s Phoenix Suns and Mercury from Robert Sarver, who left after an investigation into his employees’ environment and personal allegations of racist and misogynistic language.
Add that up, and it means fans outside of Phoenix will be consuming the Mercury’s season. Some of that attention could be voiced out of hate, with political sentiments springing up after Griner was freed in a United States prisoner swap for convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.
But Pitman believes the team is equipped to march through the noise. There surely will be love heading Griner’s way, too.
Pitman said attendance for the opener at Footprint Center on May 21 could rival the WNBA franchise’s first-ever game in the Valley.
The Mercury are prepared if the attention does not drop off from there, at home or on the road.
“We expect that every night will be a media circus for us,” the general manager said. “We’re going to see a lot of people who want to see BG, want to celebrate her, want to be part of what she’s meant to our country here. I think that we have to be prepared to play in front of those white-hot spotlights every night, but I think we’re built to do that. BG obviously is prepared, but Diana Taurasi is the greatest of all-time. She lives for these types of events. Sophie Cunningham is built the same way.
“I really believe our roster is set up to handle this adversity we may see over the season.”