Griner and the Mercury opened the 2023 WNBA season with a road contest against the Los Angeles Sparks.Even still, Crypto.com Arena was buzzing over the 6-foot-9 Phoenix center's return. The crowd offered Griner a standing ovation as soon as she took the floor for warm-ups.Vice President Kamala Harris, who was pivotal in the fight to secure the prisoner exchange with Russia that brought Griner back stateside, was in attendance for the Mercury superstar's WNBA re-debut. She even stepped into Phoenix's locker room to commend Griner and her team for their resilience throughout the hardships of the last year.Thank you for all that you did in supporting Brittney, Harris said. Because I know that was rough, and that was so difficult for you.A team is a team — that's family, she added.Other big names flocked to Los Angeles' Crypto.com Arena — and, two days later, to Phoenix's Footprint Center — to watch BG play. Tennis legend and prominent activist Billie Jean King was spotted sitting alongside Los Angeles Lakers legend Michael Cooper.Current Lakers coach Darvin Ham was on hand in Hollywood, as was Los Angeles great Pau Gasol along with NBA icon Magic Johnson and his wife, Cookie. And Dawn Staley, the WNBA great who coached Griner to gold at the Tokyo Olympics, was there to give the star center a warm embrace.In past years, Griner has advocated against playing the national anthem ahead of sporting events. She joined several WNBA peers by remaining in the locker room for pregame festivities during the 2021 season.But after spending 10 months detained in Russia, Griner has instead opted to stand for the anthem during the 2023 season.Days ahead of Griner's debut, her agent, Lindsay Kagawa Colas, penned an essay for Time magazine in which she explained the reasoning behind Griner's choice.Having been put in a literal cage, too small for her frame, stripped of her essential American freedoms, and deprived of even her most basic rights during a sham trial and unjust sentencing, Brittney, supported by many other players, will make a statement this WNBA season by standing tall for those uniquely American freedoms — the most important of which being the absolute and inviolable and constitutionally protected freedom to stand, sit, kneel, praise, protest, and otherwise make your voice heard, Colas wrote.Hannah Wengertsman, the Mercury head athletic trainer and physical therapist, was instrumental in helping Griner get back into shape to compete this season. She told Insider that it would be important to manage expectations as Griner returns to the court.Griner left the WNBA in 2021 as an MVP candidate who averaged a whopping 20.5 points, 9.5 rebounds, and 1.9 blocks per game, ranking top-10 in the league in all three categories. It would be unfair, Wengertsman argued, for folks to expect the same BG you saw when she last played mere months after experiencing the trauma of Russia detainment.But Griner met the moment in breathtaking fashion, leading the Mercury with 18 points while adding six rebounds and four blocks. The Mercury hosted the Chicago Sky on Sunday for what was dubbed the Welcome Home Opener. It was Griner's first opportunity to play in front of Phoenix's loyal fanbase, known as The X-Factor, in nearly two years, and she felt the love from her home crowd immediately.It means everything, Griner said in her post-game press conference. Anybody who comes to this game knows the X-Factor and that you're gonna see, hear, feel the intensity. It's every single night, from the start of the game to the end.Being able to play in front of them means everything to me, she added. I don't take it for granted, that's for sure.Griner enjoyed a storybook start to her homecoming game. She won the tip over the Sky's Elizabeth Williams, then positioned herself in the paint to collect a pass from longtime teammate Diana Taurasi.The two-time Olympic gold medalist took a few dribbles, showcased some fancy footwork under the basket, then dropped in a close-range shot through contact. Her defender was whistled for the foul, and Griner converted the foul shot for a quick three points.Griner racked up nine points, four rebounds, and two blocks through the first half of play. But even once she was back in the locker room, fans were treated to a show on the court.Three-time Grammy winner Wyclef Jean performed Bob Marley's smash hit, One Love, at center court while surrounded by hundreds of fans. He later performed some of his biggest hits in a postgame concert at the arena.There's no way around it: Griner looked as good as ever in her return to the Footprint Center. She finished the game with a whopping 27 points — which included an uncharacteristic three points from beyond the arc — as well as 10 rebounds and four blocks. She was, far and away, the best player on the floor Sunday afternoon.And though her Mercury didn't come away with the win, Griner undoubtedly took some pride in her stellar play in just her second game back.My mindset was, if I'm the first option, I've got to go score it, Griner said after the game. If I'm not, then I need to get my player open.But it always feels good when the first bucket goes down, she added.