Brittney Griner’s Tearful WNBA Teammates Play On After Her Conviction

UNCASVILLE, Conn. — Phoenix Mercury Coach Vanessa Nygaard and her teaching employees stood within the empty Mohegan Solar enviornment on Thursday, puzzled.

The Mercury had been set to tackle the Connecticut Solar at 7 p.m., and her gamers had been speculated to be on the courtroom going by means of their regular pregame shoot-around, however nobody confirmed up.

As an alternative, the Mercury gamers had been again within the locker room, glued to the tv display watching their teammate Brittney Griner’s conviction and sentencing on drug smuggling and possession fees earlier that day in a Russian courtroom 1000’s of miles away. “It was like you’re waiting for a bomb to drop,” Mercury guard Diamond DeShields mentioned.

They watched with tear-filled eyes as Griner fought by means of her personal tears and pleaded with a Russian courtroom to not “end her life” for an “honest mistake.” Griner was sentenced to 9 years in a Russian penal colony and fined 1 million rubles, or about $16,000. The sentence opens the door for Griner to be returned to the USA by means of a prisoner swap, however for the gamers, the information was nonetheless heartbreaking to listen to.

“And we’re still supposed to play this game,” Mercury guard Skylar Diggins-Smith mentioned after the sport, including an expletive. “Nobody even wanted to play today. How are we even supposed to approach the game and approach the court with a clear mind when the whole group is crying before the game?”

Nygaard mentioned the staff had ultimately gone by means of a “version” of the shoot-around, however nothing in regards to the day or recreation felt regular. Probably the most atypical second of the night time for Nygaard occurred moments earlier than tipoff, because the lights dimmed and gamers, coaches and referees locked arms in solidarity for 42 seconds — matching the variety of Griner’s jersey. Followers chanted “We are B.G.” and “Bring her home.”

“I even linked arms with a referee, so you know you’re never going to see that again,” Nygaard mentioned with a smile.

Griner has been detained in Russia since Feb. 17 after customs officers mentioned they discovered cannabis oil, a hashish by-product, in Griner’s baggage at an airport close to Moscow when she was touring to the nation to play for UMMC Yekaterinburg, an expert girls’s basketball staff. Griner mentioned throughout her trial on drug fees that the cannabis oil, in a vape pen, had been packed by mistake. Players throughout the W.N.B.A. and different skilled athletes have campaigned fiercely for her freedom. In Could, the U.S. State Division mentioned that it had decided that Griner was “wrongfully detained” and that its officers would work to free her. Consultants have mentioned a prisoner swap is the almost definitely path for Griner’s launch; the White Home not too long ago mentioned it had made a “substantial” proposal.

Within the meantime, Griner’s teammates and followers have continued their public marketing campaign of assist.

As followers crammed the sector on Thursday night time, they had been greeted by Connecticut Solar dancers and enviornment employees members sporting “We are BG” T-shirts. Griner’s purple and orange No. 42 Mercury jerseys crammed the stands together with variations of clothes with messages calling for her freedom. Mercury gamers donned the “We are BG” shirts in pregame warm-ups, as did the Connecticut teaching employees and a number of other Solar gamers. Solar level guard Jasmine Thomas, who has been out injured, wore a hooded sweatshirt with an image of Griner on the entrance and her No. 42 on the again.

Sharon White, a Solar fan and a season-ticket holder since 2002, was amongst these sporting Mercury colours. She was sporting a purple T-shirt that featured Griner’s identify and quantity, which she mentioned she wears to each recreation whatever the opponent.

“When I get home, I wash it and I wear it again, even when they’re not playing,” White mentioned, including that her mates usually make enjoyable of her for the way a lot she wears the shirt. White mentioned she had cried as she watched Griner’s verdict on Thursday.

“It just hurts — I love her as a player, and it’s just a sad situation,” White mentioned, wiping tears from her eyes. She added: “She doesn’t need to be there. When she comes home, she doesn’t need to go back. I think none of our players should go over there.”

Many W.N.B.A. gamers go abroad through the low season to play for worldwide groups to complement their earnings. Griner was proven holding up an image of her UMMC Yekaterinburg staff photograph from behind bars on Thursday.

Amongst these within the image had been Jonquel Jones, the Solar ahead who received the W.N.B.A.’s Most Beneficial Player Award final season. Jones, like Griner, has performed for the Russian staff for a number of years.

Jones mentioned she had by no means anticipated one thing like Griner’s detention to occur. After Griner’s arrest, Jones mentioned she had discovered that even cannabidiol oil, which she all the time carries along with her to assist with restoration from ache and accidents, was unlawful in Russia.

“My experiences over there have been so good,” Jones mentioned. “Our team was top notch. They treated us like the professionals we are. We loved going over there because of that. So we just always felt safe. We never felt like anything would ever happen. So to see it happen to one of my teammates and be so close to it and understand that it could’ve been me, it puts it into perspective.”

Jones mentioned getting excited for Thursday’s recreation had been troublesome; the second of solidarity made her much more emotional.

“It was like, ‘Dang, we did that, and now I got to go play basketball; my friend is still locked up overseas,’” Jones mentioned. “So you just kind of go out there and do the best that you can do and not take the moment for granted, knowing that this is where she would want to be.”

The Mercury misplaced the sport, 77-64, with an 18-0 Solar run within the third and fourth quarters that put the sport out of attain. Diggins was the sport’s main scorer, with 16 factors, and Jones completed with 14. However for each side, the numbers seemingly didn’t matter.

“We’ll wake up tomorrow, and B.G. will still be in a Russian jail,” Nygaard mentioned. “It’s day 169 or something tomorrow, and the clock continues, and we just want her to come home.”