“It is nothing that we are politicizing. It’s a human being, and this is our real-life friend, our real-life sister, so imagine if your real-life friend or sister was out there. I don’t expect everyone to make it.”
The outpouring of support for Griner, one of the greatest players in women’s basketball, from the WNBA sisterhood has been remarkable and admirable. But it hasn’t come without its own emotional trauma, never more evident than in Thursday night’s Connecticut Sun 77-64 win over Griner’s team.
Griner’s detention in Russia since Feb. 17 has drawn a lot of media attention to the WNBA, and the intentions are good. But it’s not the attention anyone in the league wants or would have wanted. So the best way to support Griner’s cause is to support women playing the sport she loves. go to a game Turn on the TV and watch the WNBA. Invest in your league.
The WNBA is not a sideshow or basketball background noise to the Griner saga. It’s a high-level professional league with talented performers who are persevering through a season like no other. Diggins-Smith was genuinely disturbed that there were no questions about basketball.
Players try to honor Griner not only with words and ubiquitous shirts (WE ARE BG), but with product on the court.
“Yeah, you just have to go out there and do the best you can, not take anything for granted, knowing that this is where she would want to be,” said Sun center Jonquel Jones, the WNBA MVP who played with Griner . in Russia “She would be in this game literally, so she didn’t want to take anything for granted. But it was definitely hard to get up and get excited about the game.
Griner’s tortuous turn through the Russian legal system reached its inevitable conclusion on Thursday when he received a nine-year sentence after pleading guilty to bringing cannabis oil into the country while playing for the European powerhouse , UMMC Ekaterinburg, a club he has played for. for since 2015.
Negotiations between the United States, which has declared Griner “arrested in error,” and Russia for her release now he can proceed in earnest. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov have already spoken, with Lavrov indicating that Russia is willing to discuss a deal.
There was a 42-second silence of solidarity before the match with Mercury and the Sun linking arms in the center court and chants of “Bring her home!” of the crowd Tons of employees wore the black and orange BG jerseys, including Sun coach Curt Miller.
The paradox of securing Griner’s release is that the more agitation and public support there is, the more the Russian government feels it has a valuable piece to extract concessions from. His status quo both hurts and helps.
Hope to replace heartbreak would be a welcome change for WNBA players, especially her Mercury teammates. The team has floundered without Griner, entering Saturday in ninth place in the 12-team league, and the cost of repeating its plight at every WNBA site became apparent.
“We come here and we’re still supposed to play this [expletive] game,” Diggins-Smith said. “No one wanted to play today. How to approach the game and approach the court with a clear mind and the whole group is crying before the game?
“[It’s] because you try to honor her, and you try to go out and still play hard for her.”
The normalcy of basketball as a refuge and refuge has been a casualty of this crisis. Scroll through the biographies of WNBA players and you’ll find that playing overseas is common as players supplement their income.
Commissioner Cathy Engelbert is working to create higher salaries. Top players can earn league marketing deals worth $250,000 and team marketing deals worth $100,000. Three players have marketing agreements with the league and 29 have team marketing agreements. The top base salary in the WNBA is $228,000.
Still, according to WNBA research, about 1 percent of corporate spending goes to women’s sports and less than 5 percent of media coverage.
So the way to support Griner is to support the WNBA.
The Russian team Griner played for was bathed in gold, paying players over a million dollars. Jones, who played at UMMC Ekaterinburg the previous two seasons, said he never thought anything like Griner’s ordeal was possible.
“Never,” she said. “My experiences there have been very good. Our team was top notch. They treated us like the professionals we are. We loved going there because of it. We always felt safe there.”
For those who remain adamant that Griner is to blame for her imprisonment, Jones said the Russian team never provided any advice or guidance. He said it’s common for players to take CBD.
“After everything with BG, we looked things up online and found out that CBD was even illegal in Russia,” Jones said. “This is something we all have in our bags that we use to help our bodies compete, and it has no effect on you in any other way. It’s just trying to make your body feel good [in recovery]. The team didn’t tell us anything. We tried to do our thing and be respectful of what was going on there.”
The players know he could easily have been one of them in Griner’s shoes.
Sometimes it’s the fans who need our support. Such is the case with the WNBA players Griner left behind.
Christopher L. Gasper is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @cgasper.