The Phoenix Mercury opened the season at home Friday night against the Las Vegas Aces. One player not there was prominently on everyone’s minds: Brittney Griner.
As the Mercury and the rest of the WNBA moved forward into the season, Griner nears the three-month mark of her detention in Russia, with no timetable for her release.
“It’s horrible what happened to her, knowing as well as us fans have gotten to know here,” said MJ Hill, a Mercury season-ticket holder since the WNBA’s first season in 1997. “She’s a kind and gentle person, and it’s horrible to think about where she is and what she’s going to.”
Griner was detained Feb. 17 after authorities at the Moscow airport said they found vape cartridges that allegedly contained oil derived from cannabis in her luggage, which could carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison. The Biden administration determined Griner is being wrongfully detained and she has a hearing set for May 19.
“There is not a day that goes by that I’m not working on this in some way, talking with a variety of folks at the U.S. government, her agent, family, others who are experts in this area who can help us navigate a very complex and quite frankly, like I said at our draft, unimaginable situation,” WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said in Seattle.
The WNBA is acknowledging Griner with a floor decal with “BG” and her No. 42 in all 12 arenas across the league as she continues to be detained.
Washington placed its decal on the blue sideline between the benches at the Mystics’ arena in the nation’s capital, placed next to a “Black Lives Matter” decal. Some Indiana Fever substitutes would sit on the ground near the “BG42” while waiting for a break in the action so they could enter the game.
“We all have concern for the situation, something that normally would be handled a lot quicker,” Washington coach Mike Thibault said. ”(It) certainly hasn’t been and I think everybody sees what’s happening. She’s in everybody’s thoughts.”
Mercury players wore black t-shirts with “We Are BG” in white letters during warmups and introductions. Guard Sophie Cunningham addressed the crowd before the game against Las Vegas.
“We’re still hopeful she’ll be back with us soon, but until then we’ll be kicking butt and winning games,” she said.
A 6-foot-9 center, Griner and WNBA career scoring leader Diana Taurasi have been the key cogs for a Mercury franchise that won the 2014 WNBA title and reached the final last season, losing to the Chicago Sky.
Griner is a six-time All-Star, won consecutive WNBA Defensive Player of the Year awards in 2014-15 and is the most prolific dunker in WNBA history. A two-time gold medalist, she had one of the best seasons of her nine-year WNBA career in 2021, leading the WNBA in blocked shots while finishing second in scoring and sixth in rebounding.
Griner again was expected to play a key role for the Mercury this season after the team bolstered its roster with the additions of Tina Charles and Diamond DeShields.
“BG is on my mind every day,” Seattle Storm forward Breanna Stewart said. “You have these moments where you just can’t believe that she’s still in Russia wrongfully detained. Hoping we get her home. The WNBA isn’t the WNBA without BG.”