By: Jovia Zhang
On Thursday, August 4th Brittney Griner, who plays for the Phoenix Mercury, got sentenced to nine years in a Russian penal colony and was fined 1 million rubles, which is about $16,000.
She claimed to have made an “honest mistake” when she was charged with possession and smuggling of drugs at an airport near Moscow, where officials found hashish oil stashed in a vape pen and a cannabis derivative in Griner’s luggage.
During her sentence, thousands of miles away in a locker room in Connecticut, the tear-filled eyes of Griner’s teammates were glued to a television screen, watching her as they received the heartbreaking news. “It was like waiting for a bomb to drop,” said Mercury guard Diamond DeShields.
And yet the team was still set to play against the Connecticut Sun at 7 p.m. that day.
“And we’re still supposed to play this game,” said Mercury guard Skylar Diggins-Smith after the game. “Nobody even wanted to play today. How are we even supposed to approach the fame and approach the court with a clear mind when the whole group is crying before the game?”
As difficult as the game was for the Mercury, everyone gathered together before tipoff, locking arms with players, coaches, and even referees for 42 seconds – 42 is the number of Griner’s jersey – while fans chanted “We are B.G.” and “Bring her home.”
Experts and officials are working hard to free Griner, especially after it was confirmed in May by the U.S. State Department that she had been “wrongfully detained.” Experts say that Griner will most likely be released through a prisoner swap. The White House has recently proposed such an idea to Russia.
While the U.S. works its hardest to free Griner, her teammates and fans have continued to show their support for her to safely return.
According to the New York Times, “As fans filled the arena on Thursday night, they were greeted by Connecticut Sun dancers and arena staff members wearing ‘We are BG’ T-shirts. Griner’s purple and orange No. 42 Mercury jerseys filled the stands along with variations of clothing with messages calling for her freedom. Mercury players donned the ‘We are BG’ shirts in pregame warm-ups, as did the Connecticut coaching staff and several Sun players.
Sun point guard Jasmine Thomas, who has been out injured, wore a hooded sweatshirt with a picture of Griner on the front and her No. 42 on the back.”
Among those who wore Mercury colors was Sharon White, a Sun fan, who sported a purple T-shirt with Griner’s name and number printed on it. She said she would wear it to every game, no matter who the opponent is.
White recalled crying while watching Griner’s sentence on Thursday. “When I get home, I wash it and I wear it again, even when they’re not playing,” she said. “It just hurts – I love her as a player, and it’s just a sad situation. 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.”
Griner had been visiting Russia to play with her UMMC Yekaterinburg team; on Thursday she was photographed from behind bars holding a photo of her Russian team.
Somewhere in that photo was Jonquel Jones, the Sun forward who has also been playing for the Russian team for many years.
Griner’s detention was a complete shock to Jones, who hadn’t even known that cannabidiol oil, an item she always carries on her to help with injuries and recoveries, was illegal in Russia.
“My experiences over there have been so good,” Jones said. “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.”
Hyping up and getting excited for Thursday’s game with the Mercury had been difficult for Jones.
“It was like, ‘Dang, we did that, and now I got to go play basketball; my friend is still locked up overseas,’” Jones said. “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 lost the game, with Diggins scoring 16 points in total and Jones finishing with 14. But for both sides, win or no win didn’t matter. It didn’t change anything.
“We’ll wake up tomorrow, and B.G. will still be in a Russian jail,” Mercury coach Vanessa Nygaard said. “It’s day 169 or something tomorrow, and the clock continues, and we just want her to come home.”