March 2, 2024

Brittney Griner was sentenced to nine years in prison in Russia on Thursday after a judge ruled she smuggled drugs into the country with criminal intent.

Hours after the decision, the WNBA superstar’s devastated teammates had to prepare for a game.

But before the Phoenix Mercury tipped Connecticut Sun Thursday afternoon, both teams gathered at center field for a moment of silence in honor of the Olympic champion who was illegally held some 4,500 miles away. With tears streaming down their faces, the players stood arm-in-arm for 42 seconds — a tribute to Griner’s jersey number — under the low lights of Mohegan Sun Arena.

As chants of “Bring her home” broke out in Uncasville, the athletes hugged each other, wiped their eyes and did their best to get ready to play some basketball. But as Mercury star point guard Skylar Diggins-Smith said after her team’s 64-77 loss: “No one even wanted to play today.”

“How should you approach the game, approach the pitch, with a clear mind?” Diggins-Smith offered as tears welled in her eyes. “And the whole team cries before the game? Because you try to honor her and try to go out and still play hard for her.”

During her pre-match press conference with the media, Phoenix coach Vanessa Nygaard explained that her team was huddled together in the visitors’ locker room, streaming the Russian proceedings as their 6-foot-6 teammate received the verdict. and her conviction. Moments later, the Mercury ran onto the court to shoot.

Skylar Diggins-Smith.

Skylar Diggins-Smith.

Kate Frese/NBAE via Getty Images

It was “really hard” for the team to focus on anything other than Griner’s plight, Nygaard said. However, “none of our tough days are as tough as BG’s,” he added.

“Obviously it’s devastating,” Mercury wing Diamond DeShields said after the game.

“It’s heavy. It’s just heavy, yeah,” Diggins-Smith said, adding: “She’s our sister, she’s not some random Jane off the street. It’s not something we’re politicizing. She’s human and that’s what a true friend is and our real sister. So imagine if your real friend or real sister is out here.”

Fans hold signs in support of Brittney Griner.

Fans rally to bring Griner home.

Phoenix Mercury/Handout via REUTERS

“And I don’t expect everyone to give a damn, but we really do,” he added. “And we come out here and we still have to play this fucking game.”

Fans can watch Diggins-Smith and DeShields’ post-fight press conference below:

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