Back in early June, when efforts to push for the release of WNBA star Brittney Griner from a Russian prison were picking up across the basketball landscape, the Celtics went to the podium during an NBA Finals media day wearing “We are BG” T-shirts, showing their support for their fellow pro hooper.
Two months later, the unthinkable happened: Griner was sentenced this week by a Russian court to nine years in prison for attempting to bring cannabis oil into the country after landing at the Moscow airport. The decision sparked outrage all over the country.
Celtics forward Grant Williams was among those shocked by the ruling.
“No way!” Williams tweeted. “9 years? Bring our sister and friend home.”
Celtics star Jayson Tatum, responding to the news, tweeted out three pairs of praying hands.
Former Celtics big man Kendrick Perkins also commented, tweeting, “Jesus Christ! This ain’t right man… bring BG home.”
Kyrie Asks Biden for an ‘Update’
Griner’s case has become a significant topic around the basketball world, for a number of reasons. There has been speculation that the fact that Griner is a woman has lessened the drive of the U.S. government to ensure her return, though there has been pushback on that viewpoint.
Still, her coach, Vanessa Nygaard of the Phoenix Mercury, sounded off on the situation last month.
“If it was LeBron, he’d be home, right?” Nygaard asked. “It’s a statement about the value of women. It’s a statement about the value of a Black person. It’s a statement about the value of a gay person. All of those things. We know it, and so that’s what hurts a little more.”
Former Celtics star Kyrie Irving appealed to President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris this week to find out what can be done about Griner’s situation.
“What is truly happening with our Queen @brittneygriner, @POTUS @VP?,” Irving tweeted. ”Please give us an Update.”
Biden did release a statement on the day of Griner’s sentencing, saying, “Today, American citizen Brittney Griner received a prison sentence that is one more reminder of what the world already knew: Russia is wrongfully detaining Brittney. It’s unacceptable, and I call on Russia to release her immediately so she can be with her wife, loved ones, friends, and teammates. My administration will continue to work tirelessly and pursue every possible avenue to bring Brittney and Paul Whelan home safely as soon as possible.”
Becky Hammon Asks Russia to ‘Do the Right Thing’
Griner, 31, is a nine-year WNBA veteran, and a seven-time All-Star in the league. She has twice won the league’s Defensive Player of the Year award, and led Phoenix to the WNBA Finals last season, where the Mercury lost to the Chicago Sky.
WNBA players frequently play in Europe in the league’s offseason to bolster their salaries, and at the time of her arrest, Griner was on her way to join her Russian team, BC UMMC Ekaterinburg in Yekaterinburg, part of the Russian Premier League.
One of the most prominent Russian-American players is former Spurs assistant coach Becky Hammon, now the head coach of the WNBA’s Las Vegas Aces. She represented Russia in the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, and in an interview with Reuters this week, implored Russian president Vladimir Putin to release Griner.
“It’s something that obviously hits super close to home for me and so I just ask the Russian government to do the right thing. It’s never too late to do the right thing,” Hammon told Reuters. “We’re asking for leniency. We’re asking for grace. And we’re asking to bring home BG.”