Mercury coach Vanessa Nygaard, Aces star A'ja Wilson call for Brittney Griner's return

·5-min read

Las Vegas Aces forward A'ja Wilson hated what she saw when the first images of her Olympic teammate and Phoenix Mercury star Brittney Griner were published by the Associated Press on Monday.

They showed Griner, who's been detained in Russia since being arrested at a Moscow airport in February for alleged cannabis possession, walking with her arms shackled, a water bottle between her hands, glasses on her head and a blank stare on her face as she is flanked by Russian officials either before or after her pretrial hearing.

It was enough to put Wilson in tears.

"It was tough. I hated seeing it. It made my stomach turn. I'm getting emotional just talking about it, BG is our sister. She's our sister, and I pray – EVERY. SINGLE. DAY – that the people that are in high ups are doing everything they can to bring her home because it's unacceptable," Wilson said. "And to see her like that, I can't even put it into words because we talk about how great she is as a player, but that's a person. That's someone's wife, and she can't communicate with her. And I just pray every day, I pray every day that she comes home and that she's just healthy because it's so much deeper than the physical. It's the mental, it's the emotional, and anyone that knows BG knows her spirit is probably the best thing about her. Yes, she can put the ball in the hoop, but her spirit — I hate to see that stripped away from her. So I pray. I pray. I pray so much for BG, but that was just so hard to look at today."

WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner is escorted to a courtroom for a hearing, in Khimki just outside Moscow, Russia, Monday, June 27, 2022. More than four months after she was arrested at a Moscow airport for cannabis possession, American basketball star Brittney Griner is to appear in court Monday for a preliminary hearing ahead of her trial. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)
WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner is escorted to a courtroom for a hearing, in Khimki just outside Moscow, Russia, Monday, June 27, 2022. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

The results of the hearing weren't promising: A trial date for Friday, July 1, and at least six more months of detention in Russia. Griner, 31, could face 10 years in prison if convicted of large-scale transportation of drugs. Airport officials claim they found vape cartridges with hashish oil in Griner's luggage when she was first arrested and detained on Feb. 17.

Phoenix Mercury head coach Vanessa Nygaard also took time Monday night to talk about Griner, in an effort to keep Griner's story at the top of the news cycle. Nygaard commended those around the WNBA and NBA for continuing to talk about Griner's story but specifically called on President Joe Biden to do more to bring Griner back to the United States.

"I just wanna make sure everybody puts BG at the top of their stories as this continues to be the main story we wish to discuss when we discuss the Phoenix Mercury and the WNBA," Nygaard said. "It's been great to see more organizations and more groups step up and want to help and be more vocal but we need President Biden to step up right now and help bring BG home. So, anything anyone can do, we would love to have it and continue to support her and her family and, also, her shoe drive — BG's heart and soul. We're going out [Tuesday] with our team to do some shoe distribution in her honor. If you can't do anything, donate to her shoe drive and really keep her spirit going."

Seattle Storm forward Breanna Stewart, who also played with Griner in the Olympics, has tweeted at President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris every day since Griner's detainment, too:

Griner has had limited communication with friends and family during her detainment. The U.S. Embassy failed to connect Griner with her wife, Cherelle, in a phone call last week.

The U.S. officially declared Griner "wrongfully detained" by the Russian government in May, but has yet to offer any updates on the negotiation of her release. Russian state-run media speculated Griner could be exchanged for convicted arms trafficker Viktor Bout, while others think Griner could be paired with former Marine Paul Whelan, who was sentenced to 16 years in a Russian prison on espionage charges in 2018, in any prisoner swap.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken did not comment on Griner's or Whelan's situation when asked by CNN's Jake Tapper last week.

"As a general proposition, Jake, I’ve got no higher priority than making sure that Americans who are being illegally detained in one way or another around the world come home, and that includes Paul Whelan and that includes Brittney Griner. That includes people in a number of other countries," Blinken said. "... I can’t comment in any detail on what we’re doing except to say this is an absolute priority."

The next phase in this story will be Griner's actual trial. The U.S. government recently negotiated the release of former Marine Trevor Reed from Russian imprisonment this April.

Brittney Griner has been detained in Russia since February. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Brittney Griner has been detained in Russia since February. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)