WNBA teams honor Brittney Griner after Russian conviction

Uncasville, Connecticut - The Phoenix Mercury and Connecticut Sun observed "42 seconds of silence for our sister" on Thursday ahead of their WNBA game, after Mercury center Brittney Griner was sentenced to nine years in prison in Russia.

Brittney Griner sits inside a defendants' cage during the reading of the court's verdict in Khimki outside Moscow, Russia.
Brittney Griner sits inside a defendants' cage during the reading of the court's verdict in Khimki outside Moscow, Russia.  © REUTERS

Griner was convicted of drug possession and smuggling by a judge in Moscow on Thursday after being arrested in February at Sheremetyevo airport in the Russian capital with vape cartridges containing cannabis oil.

Griner pleaded guilty to the charges but said she had had made a mistake and had not intended to break Russian laws.

Two-time world and Olympic champion Griner was to play with the Yekaterinburg team in Russia, which she has represented since 2015 during the offseason in the WNBA, where she is an eight-time all-star.

Her Mercury teammates had watched the verdict before the game, and guard Skylar Diggins-Smith said after the game that "nobody wanted to even play today."

“How are you supposed to approach the game and court with a clear mind? The whole group is crying before the game. We still got to try and keep her spirit alive. Honor her spirit."

Biden administration seeks prisoner exchange with Russia

Brittney Griner's teammates from the Phoenix Mercury, Diamond DeShields (r.) and Skylar Diggins-Smith (l.), attend a press conference after their game against the Connecticut Sun.
Brittney Griner's teammates from the Phoenix Mercury, Diamond DeShields (r.) and Skylar Diggins-Smith (l.), attend a press conference after their game against the Connecticut Sun.  © KENA BETANCUR / AFP

The WNBA and NBA issued a joint statement after the verdict, saying: "Today’s verdict and sentencing is unjustified and unfortunate, but not unexpected and Brittney Griner remains wrongly detained."

"The WNBA and NBA’s commitment to her safe return has not wavered and it is our hope that we are near the end of this process of finally bringing BG home to the United States."

US President Joe Biden said she was "wrongfully detained" as he named the verdict "unacceptable" and called on Russia "to release her immediately, so she can be with her wife, loved ones, friends, and teammates."

Griner could possibly be released if Russia and the US agree on a prisoner exchange, with such talks reportedly having been held, and the completion of her trial possibly accelerating proceedings.

"We remain faithful the Administration will do what it takes to end her wrongful detention," a Phoenix Mercury statement said.

Cover photo: Collage: REUTERS & KENA BETANCUR / AFP

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