Skylar Diggins-Smith and the Phoenix Mercury played their Thursday night contest against the Connecticut Sun with heavy hearts following the announcement of their teammate, Brittney Griner, receiving a nine-year sentence for illegal drug possession and smuggling earlier in the day.
When reporters asked the nine-year vet was asked about why the WNBA decided to play out games following the news about Griner, the six-year vet gave an emotional and poignant answer.
“Nobody wanted to even play today,” Diggins-Smith told reporters. “How are you supposed to approach the game with a clear mind when the whole group is crying before the game?”
— Phoenix Mercury (@PhoenixMercury) August 5, 2022
Diggins-Smith added that emotion around the locker room was “heavy” and that it was hard to want to play as her teammates were having trouble keeping their exposure as the weight of Griner’s conviction hit everyone in the locker room. Before tipoff, the Mercury and Sun came together at the halfcourt line and had a moment of silence for Griner.
“This is our real-life friend, real-life sister,” she said. “Imagine if your real-life friend or real-life sister is out here. I don’t expect everybody to give a damn, but we really do. And we come out here, and we’re still supposed to play this game.”
— WSLAM (@wslam) August 4, 2022
The WNBA also released a statement in solidarity with Griner and W players around the League.
— WNBA (@WNBA) August 4, 2022
Griner has been detained in Russia for 169 days for possessing a vape cartridge that contained hashish oil in her luggage. She ultimately pled guilty to the charges levied against her nearly a month ago. The judge of her case decided to hold her in prison while the case went on, and he heard the testimony of all parties involved.
The United States extended an offer to swap Griner and fellow American Paul Whelan in exchange for convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout, but Russia reportedly declined unless Secretary of State Antony Blinken added another convicted Russian to the exchange, which Blinked called a “bad faith” counteroffer.
Blinken went on to say Griner’s sentence “compounds the injustice” she is dealing with.
“It puts a spotlight on our very significant turn with Russia’s legal system and the Russian government’s use of wrongful detentions to advance its own agenda using individuals as political pawns,” Blinken told reporters Friday.
Giner last played for UMMC Ekaterinburg in Russia and has played for the franchise since 2014 as one of several WNBA players who compete overseas during the offseason for supplemental income. Griner has been an eight-time All-Star in the WNBA, a two-time scoring champ, and a member of the Mercury’s 2014 title team.
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