Griner’s teammates “devastated”
“Nobody wanted to even play today.” Brittney Griner’s teammates struggle to deal with the news of her nine-year prison sentence in Russia.
The Phoenix Mercury star Brittney Griner was convicted on drug charges and sentenced to nine years in prison in Russia. Just hours after the sentencing, her WNBA teammates had a game to play.
The Phoenix Mercury were set to take on the Connecticut Sun at 7 p.m. on Thursday, but no one showed up to the pregame shoot-around like they usually would. That’s because the whole team was watching the news and awaiting their teammate, Brittney Griner’s verdict. She was convicted of smuggling and possession of drugs in Russia in the midst of the Russian invasion on Ukraine. She was sentenced to nine years in a Russian penal colony, plus a fine of 1 million rubles (around $16,000).
“That’s our sister,” said Mercury guard Skylar Diggins-Smith. “This is not some random Jane off the street. It’s not anything we’re politicizing... and we’re still supposed to play this game.”
Coach Vanessa Nygaard sais the team did finally attempt to do their shoot-around, but there was clearly a dark fog in the atmosphere as Griner’s teammates were trying to recover from crying and experiencing the emotions that news provoked in them.
Before the game began, the lights were dimmed and the players from both teams, coaches, and referees locked arms in solidarity for exactly 42 seconds. 42 is Griner’s jersey number. In addition to the Mercury players, even the Connecticut staff, Sun fans, and some players wore shirts with “We are BG” written on them, in support of Griner.
Sun player and WNBA’s MVP last season and friend of Griner’s, Jonquel Jones said she struggled to get through the game, and the arm-lock made everything even more emotional.
“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.”
Phoenix lost 77-64. Diggins led in scoring with 16 points. But no one really cared about the game, from either team.
“We approached the game tonight with a heavy heart, as we have every game this season,” said Griner’s teammate Diamond Deshields. “But today, obviously, devastating is the overall sentiment.”
“We’ll wake up tomorrow, and B.G. will still be in a Russian jail,” Nygaard said. “It’s day 169 or something tomorrow, and the clock continues, and we just want her to come home.”