CHICAGO – Brittney Griner is “the fun aunt,” according to Nneka Ogwumike. She is resilient and kind, Ogwumike said. A fellow daughter of Texas, and Ogwumike's father's favorite player.
Speaking Friday ahead of the WNBA's All-Star festivities in Chicago, Ogwumike focused more on Griner's humanity than her playing ability as the league continued to push for Griner's release from her detention in Russia.
“BG, Brittney Griner, is an American hero,” said Ogwumike, an All-Star forward for the Los Angeles Sparks. “She is ours and she is yours, and we must get her home.”
Ogwumike, the president of the WNBA players' association, joined Griner’s wife, Cherelle, the Rev. Al Sharpton, Seattle Storm star Sue Bird and union leader Terri Jackson for a press conference calling for mercy for Griner a day after the eight-time All-Star pleaded guilty to drug possession charges that could see her sentenced to up to 10 years in prison.
Returning to play basketball in Russia, Griner, 31, was first detained at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport in February. Police said they found vape canisters containing cannabis oil in her luggage.
“She's been there 4 1/2 months, having to be transported in vehicles too small for her frame,” Sharpton said. “Incarcerated where, she's in a place where most of the people in that place can't speak her language. I think she's already done a lot of time given what we're talking about was the infraction.”
Speaking through an interpreter, Griner told the court Thursday she had no intention of committing a crime and had acted unintentionally because she had packed for Moscow in a hurry. The trial was then adjourned until July 14.
Griner's guilty plea could be an effort by her and her advisers to expedite the court proceedings.
“BG has taken accountability, and now it is time — past time — for this to come to a conclusion,” Jackson said.
Griner's detention comes at a low point in relations between the United States and Russia. The State Department’s designation of Griner as wrongfully detained put her case under the supervision of its special presidential envoy for hostage affairs, effectively the government’s chief hostage negotiator.
President Joe Biden called Cherelle Griner on Wednesday to assure her that he’s doing all he can to win her wife's release as soon as possible. They spoke after Biden read a letter from Brittney Griner in which she said she feared she’d never return home.
“At this point I am in the position where I understand that what they are doing is very challenging due to the circumstances with Russia and the United States right now,” Cherelle Griner said. “And so I want to make it very clear that our next move as supporters for BG is to make sure that the administration understands that they have our full support in doing any and everything necessary to be able to bring BG home as well as every other wrongfully detained American.”
Cherelle Griner, along with Ogwumike and Bird, did not answer any questions at the press conference.
After first staying quiet in the wake of Brittney Griner's arrest, Cherelle Griner and the WNBA have stepped up their campaign for the release of the two-time Olympic gold medalist. The WNBA put a decal on each of its courts with Griner’s initials as well as her No. 42, and cleared the way for the Phoenix Mercury to pay her without it counting against the team’s salary cap.
Griner is an honorary starter for Sunday's All-Star Game, and Jackson said the league is planning a special recognition for Cherelle and the Griner family during the contest.
“Sanctity of sport is important,” Bird said, “and as an athlete community made up of friends from countries around the world, we all feel rattled by this, and just want her home.”
Jim Heintz in Moscow and AP Basketball Writer Doug Feinberg in New York contributed to this report.
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