Phoenix Mercury and Connecticut Sun members stood side by side in a circle in a half field before a WNBA game Thursday night at the Mohegan Sun Arena to observe a “42-second moment of solidarity” for Mercury center Brittney Griner.
A Russian court sentenced Grenier to nine years in prison earlier on Thursday after being found guilty of drug smuggling. She was arrested on February 17 for bringing cannabis into the country, where she has long competed during the off-season WNBA.
Several players on both teams wiped their tears during an emotional pre-match party, which called for the release of Grenier and the other Americans detained in Russia.
As the players locked their arms out at Halfcourt, the Sun’s public address announcer said the teams hope to “recognize the gravity of the moment and collectively transmit it.” [Griner] Energy.”
“We are inspired every day by the power of BG, and we are steadfastly committed to keeping her public mind high until she returns safely to American soil,” the PA announcer said. “We invite all of you here tonight to stand up and tie up in solidarity. Bringing Britney and all the other detainees home is the only goal. We are and will remain focused and united to get them home safely.”
Griner is missing her first WNBA season this year since Phoenix drafted her with the first pick in 2013.
On Thursday morning, Mercury players were preparing for a shootout in Uncasville, Connecticut, when Griner’s verdict was announced. They were watching their cell phones, Vanessa Nygaard, the Phoenix trainer, said.
“Not one of our hard days is as tough as the BG days, is it?” Nygaard said before the match. “So we always keep that in mind, and we’ve carried this with us for the season every single day. But today is really tough, really.
“We had players in the locker room watching the referee while we were getting ready to shoot. And then just to go in there and play basketball… Basketball doesn’t look like the thing today. It’s not. It seems so important, of course, we’re ready, players. Very professional, they went out and did what they needed to, and we prepared for the match.
“But to go back and listen to her words today, to see how she was treated in Russia, to hear her apology… It’s very sad.”
Thursday’s ruling was expected, and Mercury was prepared for it. However, seeing Greiner locked in a dungeon in a courtroom listening to the verdict deeply disturbs the Mercury team and other players across the WNBA.
“I was astonished by her courage and strength when I was listening to her today,” Nygaard said. “I couldn’t imagine being in this position, and she was so brave. She showed great strength and great humility.”
Graner’s best chance of a speedy return to the United States is expected if a prisoner exchange is negotiated with Russia.
“We have not pinned our hopes on the Russian justice system,” Nygaard said. “We know the Biden administration and all of our government officials will work hard to get her home and that’s the way she’s going back.
“And so we are confident that – although it is difficult to hear this news today and we know that she is unjustly imprisoned; it has been announced by our government – we know that she will come home with their hard work.”
Nygaard, a former NBA player in her first season as a coach for Phoenix, said other detained Americans are also a major concern for Mercury.
“I think we’ve seen a tremendous response from the Biden administration and even the trade show that was actually done, there was a lot of support for BG,” Nygaard said. “It’s definitely an extraordinary situation. What I do know is that our government has really put itself behind BG and is working very hard to get her and all other Americans on. [home].
“We are learning more about wrongfully held Americans than ever before from this situation. I know there are many other families experiencing this feeling as well, but we hope this will be resolved soon.”