CHICAGO – Sue Bird and Sylvia Fowles are playing in the WNBA All-Star Game for the last time. Candace Parker and Kahleah Copper are looking for some rights to brag about. Some of the most important stars in the league try a 4-point shot.
And everyone is thinking of one person: Brittney Griner.
Griner’s continued arrest in Russia is at the center as the WNBA holds one of its most important events in Chicago for the first time. Bird and the rest of the All-Stars wore T-shirts with Griner’s name and number 42 for Saturday’s training sessions, and the league also plans to continue its push for Griner’s release during Sunday’s game at defender Sky’s home.
“I think for all of us, we just want to always keep BG’s name at the forefront in everything we do,” Bird said. “Yeah, from time to time we’ll answer questions about the All-Star and talk about basketball, but you’ll see his name on the back of all our T-shirts, so like I said, it’s not like that. Really change. We want him to always be there “.
Griner, 31, pleaded guilty Thursday to drug possession charges in a case that could see him sentenced to up to 10 years in prison. That same day, Bird watched as his fiancée, soccer star Megan Rapinoe, received President Joe Biden’s Presidential Medal of Freedom at the White House.
Rapinoe had BG and a rose sewn into his jacket for the occasion, and Bird wore a “WE ARE BG” pin. Bird said he couldn’t speak in person with Biden, but that: “I know Megan took advantage of the opportunities in those moments when she was able to talk to the president to talk about BG, so I know.”
Griner was first arrested at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport in February, when she was returning to play basketball in Russia. Police said they found vape cans with cannabis oil in their luggage. Speaking through an interpreter, Griner told the court Thursday that he had no intention of committing a crime and that he acted unintentionally because he had packed in a hurry. The trial was then postponed until Thursday.
Griner’s conviction could be an effort on her part and her advisers to speed up the court process.
“Obviously she is part of our family and our number 1 priority is to take her home,” All-Star escort Arike Ogunbowale said. “She shouldn’t be there. She’s been there too long. So obviously we’re going to talk about her whenever we get a chance.”
Griner’s arrest comes at a low point in US-Russia relations. The appointment of Griner’s State Department as an unlawful detainee put his case under the supervision of his special presidential envoy for hostage matters, effectively the government’s chief hostage negotiator.
Biden called Griner’s wife, Cherelle, on Wednesday to assure her that he is doing everything possible to get Brittney released as soon as possible. They spoke after Biden read a letter from Brittney Griner in which she said she feared she would never return home.
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Brittney Griner is the focus of the WNBA All-Star weekend
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