As the WNBA regular season prepares to kick off this week, one of the league’s superstars won’t be taking the court for her team.
Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner is still being held in Russia after her arrest there in mid February. During the WNBA offseason Griner plays in the Russian League and she was returning to Russia after her team took a break for the FIBA World Cup qualifying tournament. She was detained after a search of her luggage at a Moscow area airport turned up what Russian officials say were vape cartridges containing hash oil. She hasn’t been formally charged and is scheduled to have a hearing on May 19.
If Griner was to be tried and convicted she could face years in a Russian prison.
The U.S. State Dept. on Tuesday officially classified Griner as being “wrongfully detained,” which means the U.S. government can now negotiate to expedite her release and also that her teammates and supporters in Congress can now do whatever they feel is prudent to bring more attention to her case.
A statement released by the U.S. State Dept. on Tuesday read as follows; “The Department of State has determined that the Russian Federation has wrongfully detained U.S. citizen Brittney Griner. With this determination, the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Roger Carstens will lead the interagency team for securing Brittney Griner’s release.”
The WNBA says it will keep Griner at “the forefront” as the season gets underway…all 12 WNBA teams will feature a decal on their homecourts with Griner’s initials and her number, 42, on it.
The Las Vegas Aces kick off their season on Friday with a game in Phoenix against Griner’s Mercury team. Griner and the Mercury eliminated the Aces in the WNBA playoff semifinals last season.