Best Homecoming 2023 | Brittney Griner | Fun & Games | Phoenix

Brittney Griner was detained at Sheremetyevo International Airport outside of Moscow in February 2022 after officials reported finding cannabis-filled vape cartridges in her luggage. In total, Griner was found to be in possession of 0.7 grams of cannabis oil — an offense typically punishable by up to three years in prison. But Griner's detainment came just days before Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the country's invasion of neighboring Ukraine, so she quickly became a political pawn. Griner was facing a 10-year sentence. The U.S. State Department declared that Griner was a wrongful detainee in May 2022 and began pushing for her immediate release from custody. The U.S.'s calls for action were ignored by Russian officials and in November, Griner was transferred to a penal colony 200 miles southeast of Moscow. Luckily, Griner's stay in the penal colony was short-lived, and she was freed in the U.S.-Russia prisoner exchange in December. In February 2023, the WNBA star signed a one-year contract with the Phoenix Mercury to complete her improbable journey back home.

Diana Taurasi has been a mainstay on the WNBA's Phoenix Mercury roster for nearly 20 years. The No. 1 overall pick in the 2004 WNBA Draft, Taurasi has spent her career racking up accolades including three WNBA championships and seven Russian league titles during the off-season. But on Aug. 3, she outdid herself, scoring 42 points against the Atlanta Dream to become the first WNBA player to net 10,000 career points. Although the Mercury would end 2023 with a dismal 9-31 record, the season will be one to remember for Taurasi, who is largely regarded as one of the greatest players in WNBA history. We're lucky to have her in Phoenix.

When the Phoenix Suns fell to the Denver Nuggets in Game Six of the Western Conference semifinals on May 11, the biggest sting wasn't from another playoff exit by the Purple and Orange Gang. Instead, our hearts ached because it was the final game featuring Al McCoy, Phoenix's longtime play-by-play broadcaster. We knew it was coming — especially since McCoy announced he'd hang up his headset at the conclusion of the 2022-23 after five decades with the Suns — but we were still sad as he bid goodbye to fans on the radio (where he'd been calling games since 2003). Despite the Suns' frustrating loss to the Nuggets in the series, McCoy was nothing but classy, handling his farewell with grace and humility. He thanked colleagues such as color commentator Tim Kempton, mentioned how he enjoyed providing Suns coverage to blind listeners, and then gave a final adieu to end the game. "I just want to say thank you for 51 wonderful years and allowing me to bring the story of the Suns in the NBA to you," McCoy said. "It's been a great ride." After hosting the post-game show, he gave his final sign-off: "We'll just say so long ... for now." Vaya con dios, Al. You'll be missed.

Say what you will, but Meta's push of their little virtual world (dubbed the "Metaverse," because creativity is dead) sparked a movement. No one may want to spend their days in that bland digital snoozefest, but virtual reality is clearly experiencing a resurgence in popular culture. Luckily, we can explore it for all it's worth at Nerds and Geeks VR Lounge. Whether you want to drive race cars, go skiing or experience the nightmare of the "zombie cage," N&G is about accessibility and engagement. (That's why you can snag an hour of play for $25.99 — a deal for VR-centric entertainment.) More than that, it's about forming a community around this technology and using it to unite longtime gamers seeking that next level and everyone else who is jumping on the bandwagon. That's why N&G's whole vibe is less "cold digital dystopia" and more "sick personal gaming basement." Ultimately, it's about using VR not as some newfangled fad, but what gaming has always represented: the great equalizer around meaningful fun. The tech may have changed, and the graphics are a big improvement, but VR brings folks together, and N&G is a mighty hub for that in the heart of Mesa.

When Electric Bat expanded the size of its cave next door to Tempe's Yucca Tap Room last year, the Valley's best arcade got even better. How so? For starters, owner and artist Rachel Bess gave pinball fanatics what they crave most: more pinball. They can now plunk Electric Bat-branded tokens into about 60 silver ball machines roosted throughout the horror-themed joint, be it classics like "Creature From the Black Lagoon" and "Bram Stoker's Dracula" or newer releases like "Rick and Morty" and "James Bond 007 Pro." Pinball ain't the only thing there's more of, as Bess has doubled the arcade's curated selection of flashy Japanese rhythm games (including high-energy highlights "Sound Voltex: Exceed Gear" and "Wacca Reverse") and upped the cool factor with new theme events like the monthly "Play Dead" goth night. She's also planning to build a larger version of the in-house Electric Tiki Bar and possibly add an enormous mural along a 50-foot-long wall. In other words, there will soon be even more reasons to come back to the Bat for a night of ghoulishly groovy fun.

You won't believe your eyes at the Museum of Illusions Scottsdale, located in the Arizona Boardwalk entertainment complex. That's because everything in the space is designed to mess with your head. Opened earlier this year, the museum takes visitors through a series of eye-popping exhibits. In one, a slanted room makes one person look like a giant compared to another. A walkway with a rotating light display can cause even the sturdiest type to feel seasick. Each part of the museum includes a description as to why the illusion works, which makes it a place where you can both learn and have fun.

PIP Coffee and Clay is exactly what it sounds like: a tiny cafe with an attached ceramics studio. The studio, located on 24th Street in Phoenix, does both coffee and clay excellently. The cafe is charming, the coffee is strong, and the ceramics studio is welcoming and full of art. It's a great place for ceramics newbies — group classes at PIP are fun and affordable — and also provides a communal studio space for those who already know a thing or two about pottery and throwing on a wheel. No matter your pottery talents, it's a great place to meet Phoenix creatives, people who won't judge you even if your handmade mug is a little lopsided.

You want to be more creative, but you don't know where to start. Well, you can browse a Michaels craft store and see what strikes your fancy, or you can sign up for an art class at Phoenix Center for the Arts and learn from an expert. The center offers instruction in mediums such as ceramics, drawing, glass, jewelry, painting and music. Classes are for all ages, and the instructors take their time so students understand theory as well as technique. Most classes last about five or six weeks, and they're held at two different locations: the center downtown and the Thunderbird Arts Center in North Phoenix, allowing a greater number of would-be artists the chance to learn a new passion.

From the pandemic to historic heat waves, the last three years have been a doozy. Add in trying to date in a digital world, and it's safe to say that we're all a little on edge. If you're one of those well-adjusted individuals who rely on counseling to get through, good for you. But, if you're like the rest of us and feel like smashing bottles and old appliances with a bat would help you deal with the tension, then Breakthrough Smash Room is the place to go. Your entrance fee gets you a bunch of stuff to break, safety gear and a bottle of water in case you work up a sweat while you're working through your issues. And because wreaking havoc on an old washing machine is better with friends, Breakthrough offers group packages that include food and drink for under $300. This rage room is, well, all the rage.

Not since Hollywood's 1993 release of "So I Married an Axe Murderer," has ax throwing been so mainstream. But here we are 30 years later, living out our own weapon-tossing fantasies in plain sight with a beer in our hand. For just $35 per person, you can take your Tinder date to throw axes at Hotshots, a locally owned business on the border of Scottsdale and Tempe. As an added benefit, you can also discover just how much danger you'd be in should the date go south by paying attention to their accuracy at hurling a deadly weapon. All jokes aside, Hotshots Axe Throwing does a great job of catering to city-dwelling Phoenicians who might not have a lot of ax-wielding experience. So, even if you aren't harboring secret wood-chopping skills, you'll still have a kickass time.

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