CHICAGO — Sue Bird and Sylvia Fowles are playing in the WNBA All-Star Game for the last time. Candace Parker is looking to get some bragging points. Some of the league’s biggest stars get to try for a 4-point shot.
Everyone is thinking of Brittney Griner.
Griner’s continued detention in Russia is front and center as the WNBA holds one of its marquee events in Chicago for the first time. Bird and the rest of the All-Stars wore T-shirts with Griner’s name and No. 42 for practice on Saturday, and the league also plans to continue its push for Griner’s release during Sunday’s game at the home of the defending champion Sky.
“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, every now and then we’ll answer questions about All-Star and talk about the basketball, but you’re going to see her name on the back of all of our shirts, and so like I said, it doesn’t really shift. We want it to always be there.”
Griner, 31, admitted to drug possession in a case that could result in her receiving a maximum of 10 years prison sentence. That same day, Bird watched watch her fiancée, soccer star Megan Rapinoe, receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Joe Biden at the White House.
Rapinoe had BG and a rose stitched on her jacket for the occasion, and Bird sported a “WE ARE BG” pin. Bird said she didn’t get to speak personally with Biden, but that, “I know Megan has taken the opportunities in those moments when she’s been able to speak to the President to talk about BG, so I do know that.”
Griner was first detained at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport in February, when she was returning to play basketball in Russia. The police said that they discovered vape canisters filled with marijuana oil in Griner’s luggage. Griner said that her intention was not to commit any crime, and she just did it because she was in a rush. The trial was then rescheduled for Thursday.
Griner’s guilty plea could be an effort by her and her advisers to expedite the court proceedings.
“Obviously she’s part of our family and our No. 1 priority is getting her home,” All-Star guard Arike Ogunbowale said. “She shouldn’t be there. She’s been there too long. So obviously we’re going to talk about her any chance we get.”
Griner’s detention comes at a low point in relations between the United States and Russia. The State Department’s designation of Griner as wrongfully detained put her case under the supervision of its special presidential envoy for hostage affairs, effectively the government’s chief hostage negotiator.
Biden called Griner’s wife, Cherelle, on Wednesday to assure her that he’s doing all he can to win Brittney’s release as soon as possible. They spoke after Biden read a letter from Brittney Griner in which she said she feared she’d never return home.
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