MINNEAPOLIS – A'ja Wilson wishes that she and her USA Basketball teammates could do more to help Brittney Griner right now.
They've all been straddling the line of trying not to say anything that could potentially hurt the WNBA star's case as she's still imprisoned in Russia on drug allegations, but also wanting Griner and her family to know that they care about her.
“We’re not not talking BG the basketball player, we’re talking about BG the wife, the daughter, the sister the human being," Wilson, the 2020 WNBA MVP, said Friday at USA Basketball training camp.
“That’s what I’m caring about. I get the silence and you don’t want to talk about it. I can’t even imagine to put myself in that situation. It’s tough," she said.
Griner, one of many stars who play in Russia during the WNBA offseason, was detained after arriving at a Moscow airport in mid-February. Russian authorities said a search of her luggage revealed vape cartridges that allegedly contained oil derived from cannabis, which could carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.
The 6-foot-9 Phoenix Mercury center was returning to the country after the Russian League took a break for the FIBA World Cup qualifying tournament. The two-time Olympic gold medalist recently had her detention extended to the middle of May.
“Hopefully everyone’s doing what they need to do to make sure she get’s home safe," Wilson said. “That’s going to be the top priority of all of us. I know it’s tough and hard.”
Players have been keeping discussions about how to best help Griner within their community. WNBA players have been very cohesive in the past when rallying behind issues such as voter registration or the Black Lives Matters movement.
For the first few weeks following Griner’s detention, it was decided that it was clearly better for them to say less. That's changed over the last few days as players have been more available and willing to talk.
“I can guarantee you this, this group here and women of the WNBA , we’re not going to forget about Brittney Griner,” USA Basketball coach Cheryl Reeve said. “Brittney's not here, we’re going to do the things she would have done. She’s very philanthropic. Try to honor her in that way until the highest level of government can work this out.”
Breanna Stewart has stepped up to help The Phoenix Rescue Mission, a charity that Griner has been involved with for a long time.
“While BG is away I wanted to support her and her charitable efforts and do what I can from an off-the-court standpoint to help her and her family,” Stewart said.
Griner's legal team has been quietly seeking her release and has declined to speak out about the case since her arrest was made public.
Of the thousands of U.S. citizens arrested and jailed in prisons abroad, a small subset are designated by the U.S. government as wrongfully detained — a category that affords their cases an extra level of government attention and places them under the auspices of the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs at the State Department. The U.S. government has not yet put Griner’s case in that category.
Griner is not the only American detained in Russia. Marine veteran Trevor Reed was sentenced to nine years in prison in 2020 on charges alleging that he assaulted police officers in Moscow. And Michigan corporate security executive Paul Whelan is serving a 16-year sentence on espionage charges that his family and the U.S. government have said are false. U.S. officials have publicly called for Moscow to release them.