18 more days: Russian court extends Brittney Griner detainment

Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner was arrested in February at an airport near Moscow and accused of having vape cartridges in her luggage that contained hashish oil. (Screenshot courtesy of customs.gov.ru)

PHOENIX – Mercury star Brittney Griner will remain detained in Russia until at least July 2, Russian state media outlet TASS reported Tuesday. The announcement came on the heels of the WNBA organization’s meeting with members of the U.S. State Department.

Griner’s incarceration has reached 117 days. Her detainment was extended “at the request of the investigation,” Tass reported.

The team received some clarity in Monday’s meeting, which included representatives from the Office of the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affair, The Athletic reported.

Griner was arrested at an airport near Moscow in February for allegedly having vape cartridges in her luggage that contained hashish oil.

Rep. Greg Stanton, D-Phoenix, who attended the meeting with the Mercury, said that he is leading a bipartisan solution in Congress calling for Grinder’s immediate release.

Voices are getting louder about a perceived lack of action regarding the Mercury center’s return home to the United States.

Penny Taylor, who played for the Mercury during her 19-year career and was teammates briefly with Griner in 2016, opened her Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame induction speech by discussing the situation.

“Brittney Griner has been wrongfully detained in Russia for 114 days,” Taylor said emotionally on Saturday. “BG is our family. She’s yours, too. The entire global sport community needs to come together to insist that she be a priority.”

Griner’s teammates acknowledged the difficulties in bringing Griner back, but said they believe the Biden administration is working hard to resolve this situation.

“There is a lot involved in getting her back home and safe, they’re working relentlessly,” Diana Taurasi said. “We’re here to do whatever we can to amplify and keep BG at the forefront, which is more important than any basketball game and anything else that’s going on in our lives. We want BG to come home as soon as possible. It’s number one on our list.”

Taurasi added that “once we knew that BG was classified as wrongfully detained, that was a signal to us all. It’s something that we’ve all talked about intimately as a group and now knowing the State Department at the highest level, from U.S President Joe Biden to the team that is working on bringing back all Americans who are wrongfully detained, gives us a lot of confidence that they’re working on it. Anything that we can do on our side to amplify and to put BG first will be our number one priority.”

Forward Brianna Turner agreed with Taurasi, finding the meeting helpful in a Tweet posted on Monday early evening.

“Hearing directly from the people who are working to free BG was helpful!! The State department stated their support for us as a team & asked for us to keep up our efforts in publicly supporting her #WeAreBG

The NBA’s Boston Celtics, players in Game 2 of the NBA Finals on June 12, all donned “We are BG” shirts during pregame shootaround.

“We felt like it was a good idea to use our availability and our platforms to bring attention to certain matters,” Celtics guard Jaylen Brown told media. “I always stand for that. Being an athlete, we’re not just up here to entertain you guys. We also have a voice.”

Before Game 1 of the NBA Finals, league commissioner Adam Silver said the NBA is working with the U.S. State Department to bring Griner back to the States.

“We are working in lockstep with the U.S. government and outside experts … to expedite her release in any way that we can,” Silver told reporters.

Mercury first-year coach Vanessa Nygaard, who has talked consistently in pregame and postgame media sessions about Griner, was outspoken about the story after the overtime win against the Mystics on Sunday evening. So much so, that she extended an invitation to President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris to sit not just courtside, but on the team’s bench for the Tuesday night rematch against the Mystics.

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“It’s an unusual situation that no one’s faced before,” Nygaard said. “I was talking to a player before the game, and she was just talking about when we went to Indianapolis, and she was there and we rode around on scooters. We all got scooters, and we rode around. And that was just a year ago.

“I was thinking about going there after a year. And all those little things, right, walking in a new place, walking into a new gym, staying in the hotel that we stayed together, all of those things. So those people who play with BG for so long, have to have constant reminders. And the stress that I placed on the players is … I don’t know how to equate it.”

Nygaard believes “the emotional toll is a real thing.”

“We need to make sure that here while we’re in DC., that maybe we get a little bit more progress towards this and hopefully, the local media can amplify the message so that maybe we actually do get some response,” she said.

“President Biden, you’re invited to our game on Tuesday. I have courtside tickets for you. Vice President Kamala Harris, you’re invited to our game on Tuesday. I have courtside tickets. You’re welcome to come into our locker room and talk to us. You’re also just welcome to enjoy the game. You can see what our team looks like without Brittney Griner.”

Sameer Malla sam-ear mall-uh (he/his)
Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Sameer Malla expects to graduate in August 2022 with a master’s degree in sports journalism and also has a master’s in geographic information systems from University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Malla has written for the Arizona Interscholastic Association.