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


UNCASVILLE, Conn. – Phoenix Mercury coach Vanessa Nygaard and her coaching staff stood in the empty Mohegan Sun Stadium on Thursday, confused.

Mercury was set to land on the Connecticut Sun at 7pm, and her players were supposed to be on the field for their normal penalty shootout, but no one showed up.

Instead, the Mercury players returned to the dressing room, glued to the television screen watching their teammates Brittney Griner’s Conviction and Sentencing on charges of smuggling and drug possession earlier that day in a Russian court thousands of miles away. “It’s like you’re waiting for a bomb to drop,” said Mercury guardian Diamond DeShields.

They witnessed tears in their eyes as Griner fought with his own tears and begged the Russian court not to “take his life” for an “honest mistake”. Griner was sentenced to nine years in prison in a Russian penal colony and fined 1 million rubles, or about $16,000. The sentencing opens the door for Griner to be returned to the United States through a prisoner swap, but for the players, the news is still heartbreaking to hear.

“And we still have to play this game,” Mercury guardian Skylar Diggins-Smith said after the match, adding an explanation. “Nobody even wanted to play today. How do we even have to approach the game and approach the field with a clear mind when the whole team is crying before the game? “

Nygaard said the team eventually experienced a “version” of the shootout, but nothing about the day or the match felt normal. The most atypical moment of the night for Nygaard came just before the moment, when the lights dimmed and the players, coach and referee united for 42 seconds – matching Griner’s shirt number. Fans chanted “We are BG” and “Bring her home.”

“I even linked hands to the referee, so you know you’ll never see that again,” Nygaard said with a smile.

Griner has been detained in Russia since February 17 after customs officials said they found hash oil, a cannabis derivative, in Griner’s luggage at an airport near Moscow upon her arrival in the country. to play for the UMMC Yekaterinburg women’s professional basketball team. Griner said during his drug charge trial that the hash oil in a vape pen was packaged by mistake. Players across the WNBA and other professional athletes campaigned fiercely for her freedom. In May, the US State Department said that it had determined that Griner had been “wrongfully detained” and that its officials would work to free her. Experts say prisoner swaps are the most likely route to Griner’s release; The White House recently said it had made a “significantly” suggestions.

Meanwhile, Griner’s teammates and fans continue public support campaign.

As fans filled the arena Thursday night, they were greeted by Connecticut Sun dancers and gym staff wearing “We are BG” t-shirts. Griner’s purple and orange Mercury No. 42 jerseys filled the stands along with various clothing items with her message calling for freedom. The Mercury players wore “We Are BG” jerseys during warm-ups, as did the Connecticut coaching staff and several Sun players. Sun spot guard Jasmine Thomas, who was unscathed, wore a hooded sweatshirt with Griner’s picture on the front and her number 42 on the back.

Sharon White, a Sun fan and season ticket holder since 2002, is among those wearing the color Mercury. She wears a purple T-shirt with Griner’s name and number printed on it, which she says she wears in every match regardless of the opponent.

“When I get home, I wash it and wear it again, even when they’re not playing,” White said, adding that her friends often mock her for how much she wears the shirt. White said she cried while watching Griner’s sentencing on Thursday.

“It just hurts – I love her as a player, and it’s just a sad situation,” White said, wiping away tears. She added: “She doesn’t have to be there. When she gets home, she doesn’t have to come back. I don’t think any of our players should go over there.”

Much WNBA players go abroad during the break from playing for international teams to earn extra income. Griner was shown a photo of her UMMC Yekaterinburg team from behind bars on Thursday.

Among those pictured is Jonquel Jones, the Sun striker, who won the WNBA’s Player of the Year award last season. Jones, like Griner, has played for the Russian team for several years.

Jones said she never expected something like Griner’s detention to happen again. After Griner was arrested, Jones said she learned that even the cannabidiol oil she carries with her at all times to help with wound healing is illegal in Russia.

“My experience there was very good,” Jones said. “Our team used to be top notch. They treated us like professionals. We love going over there because of that. So we always feel safe. We never felt like anything was going to happen. So to see that happen to one of my teammates and get close to it and understand that it could be me, it puts it into perspective. “

Jones said it’s hard to get excited for Thursday’s game; The moment of solidarity made her even more emotional.

“It was like, ‘Dang, we did it, and now I have to go play basketball; My friend is still locked up overseas,” Jones said. “So you just go out there and do the best you can and don’t take any time for granted, knowing that this is where she wants to be.”

The Mercury lost the game, 77-64, with an 18-0 Sun run in the third and fourth quarters leaving the game out of reach. Diggins was the game’s top scorer, with 16 points, and Jones finished with 14. But for either side, the numbers didn’t seem to matter.

Nygaard said: “We will wake up tomorrow, and BG will still be in a Russian prison. “Today is the 169th or something tomorrow, and the clocks go on, and we just want her to go home.”



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