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Latest news on Brittney Griner: NWSL players wear ‘We Are BG’ shirts in support

(Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)

One of the biggest stories in the WNBA this year is unfolding off the court, as Phoenix Mercury star Brittney Griner has been detained in Russia since February.

Griner was taken into custody in a Moscow airport for alleged possession of hashish oil. The seven-time WNBA All-Star and two-time Olympic gold medalist has played for Russian club UMMC Ekaterinburg during the WNBA offseason since 2015.

In the months since her arrest, fans, teammates and the WNBA have been outspoken about bringing Griner home. Just Women’s Sports has a timeline of the events as they have been reported.

Wednesday, September 20 — NWSL players wear ‘We Are BG’ shirts in support

NWSL players will wear “We Are BG” t-shirts through the end of September to draw attention to Griner’s plight.

The Washington Spirit showed up to their game Wednesday wearing the shirts. The NWSLPA organized the shirts, Aubrey Kingsbury said after the match, which have been in the works “for a long time.”

“Our PA has organized that in getting shirts to all the teams, and just raising awareness from now through the end of September, especially as the WNBA season just wrapped up,” she said. “They’re going to lose a lot of that attention off of them, but we still need to highlight Brittney Griner, and her release, and put pressure to bring her and other Americans home safely.

“So, if we can help out our sisters of the WNBA, that’s what we’re hoping to do for the rest of our season.”

Thursday, September 15 — Griner’s family set to meet Biden at White House on Friday

President Joe Biden will welcome the family of WNBA star Brittney Griner to the White House on Friday, sources told the Associated Press.

The president will also meet with the family of Paul Whelan, another American detained in Russia. Friday will mark the first in-person meetings between Biden and the families of the two detainees.

The Biden administration proposed a prisoner swap in July to bring Griner and Whelan home, but negotiations with Russia have been unsuccessful so far.

Friday’s meetings are meant to show commitment to Griner, Whelan and other Americans jailed abroad, and to “connect with [the families] on a human level as they undergo an ordeal that the Russian government has imposed on them,” one senior administration official told the Associated Press.

Wednesday, September 14 — Bill Richardson meets with Russian leadership in Moscow

Former New Mexico governor and U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Bill Richardson held meetings in Moscow with Russian leadership this week, as first reported by CNN.

Richardson, who also worked as a diplomat, has long worked privately to help free hostages and detainees overseas through the Richardson Center. Earlier this year, he helped to secure the release of Trevor Reed, another American who was held in Russia, a source told CNN.

Details regarding Richardson’s meetings have not been revealed, but they come as the U.S. government is working to free both Griner and fellow American detainee Paul Whelan.

A spokesperson for the Richardson Center told CNN on Tuesday that they could not provide comment “at this point.”

A senior Biden administration official told CNN regarding the trip that anyone “who’s going to Russia is going as a private citizen and they don’t speak for the U.S. government.”

That same official reiterated Tuesday that the U.S. state department has “made a significant offer” to Russia in exchange for the two prisoners and has “followed up on that offer repeatedly.”

Last week, State Department principal deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel spoke on behalf of the Department saying that “the U.S. Government continues to urge Russia to release wrongfully detained individuals Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan.”

“As you all know, the Secretary came and spoke to you all a number of weeks ago, where he was clear that there was a substantial proposal on the table weeks ago to facilitate their release, and our governments have communicated repeatedly and directly on that proposal,” he said.

Sunday, August 21 — Russia trip by Dennis Rodman could “hinder” negotiations

Former NBA star Dennis Rodman said Saturday he plans to travel to Russia to advocate for Griner’s release. But his trip could do more harm than good, a senior Biden administration official told NBC News.

“I got permission to go to Russia to help that girl,” Rodman told NBC News. “I’m trying to go this week.”

If he were to go, it wouldn’t be the first time he attempted informal diplomacy with an international leader. Over the past decade, he’s developed a relationship with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. He also has credited himself with helping to secure the release of American Kenneth Bae from the country.

According to Rodman, he has cultivated a relationship with Vladimir Putin as well. In 2014, after a Moscow visit, he deemed the Russian president “cool.”

“I know Putin too well,” he said earlier this week.

But efforts to free Griner outside official channels could backfire, the senior administration official warned. Russia repeatedly has called for “quiet diplomacy” when it comes to handling the release of Griner.

“It’s public information that the administration has made a significant offer to the Russians and anything other than negotiating further through the established channel is likely to complicate and hinder release efforts,” the official said.

Monday, August 15 — Defense files appeal of conviction

Lawyers for Griner filed an appeal of her nine-year sentence for drug possession, per Russian news agencies.

The move was expected, as under Russian law the defense had ten days to appeal the ruling.

Maria Blagovolina and Alexander Boikov, Griner’s counsel, have been vocal about the WNBA star’s sentence, saying that it was excessive and citing similar cases where defendants received sentences closer to five years.

Sunday, August 7 — Bill Richardson says U.S. could do 2-for-2 swap

Former New Mexico governor and U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Bill Richardson said he’s hopeful that Griner and Paul Whelan will be brought home via a prisoner swap.

Richardson joined George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s “This Week,” where he said that the duo could be part of a “two-for-two” prisoner exchange.

“My view is optimistic, I think she’s gonna be free. There’s gonna be a prisoner swap — I think it’s gonna be two-for-two. Can’t forget about Paul Whelan,” Richardson said.

The former ambassador has been an outside adviser involved in Griner’s case, describing himself as a “catalyst.”

“I’ve been talking to the Russians. I talked to the White House,” he said, but failed to provide specifics.

He does the work as founder of the Richardson Center for Global Engagement, and was involved in helping to free ex-Marine Trevor Reed in another prisoner exchange in Russia.

Richardson worked with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov while at the U.N.

“Lavrov, he and I were U.N. ambassadors together at the same time,” Richardson said. “And I’m pleased that he’s pragmatic, that he’s sort of in charge and sent a good signal. I think the negotiations are going to be undertaken.”

Still, Richardson doesn’t agree completely with the U.S. government’s strategy.

“I wouldn’t have gone public as much as they did,” he said. But he also noted that the U.S. government’s comments about their offer of a prisoner exchange came in response to stalling from Russia.

“You want to throw a little bit of a bomb, and I think that’s what they did,” he said.

Friday, August 5 — Russia ‘ready to discuss’ swap following conviction

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that the Kremlin are “ready to discuss” the U.S. government’s prisoner swap proposal.

“We are ready to discuss this topic, but within the framework of the channel that was agreed upon by presidents Putin and Biden,” Lavrov said, according to Reuters. “If the Americans decide to once again resort to public diplomacy … that is their business and I would even say that it is their problem.”

The warning echoes that of previous calls for “quiet diplomacy” from the Russian side.

On Friday, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov reiterated that stance, saying that the United States has already made mistakes in their attempts to negotiate according to the Associated Press.

“The Americans have already made that mistake, suddenly deciding to use megaphone diplomacy to resolve these issues,” Peskov said, declining to comment on the court’s ruling. “This is not how they are resolved.”

Both Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken are in Cambodia for a meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Reportedly, the two did not speak to one another at the event.

Blinken has said that Washington is “prepared to engage with Moscow through the established diplomatic channels.” Following the sentencing, White House national security spokesperson John Kirby urged Russia to accept their serious proposal for a swap.

“We urge them to accept it,” he said. “They should have accepted it weeks ago when we first made it.”

Thursday, August 4 — President Biden calls 9-year sentence ‘unacceptable’

Following the sentencing of Brittney Griner to nine years in prison, United States president Joe Biden slammed Russia for “wrongfully detaining” Griner.

“Today, American citizen Brittney Griner received a prison sentence that is one more reminder of what the world already knew: Russia is wrongfully detaining Brittney,” he said. “It’s unacceptable, and I call on Russia to release her immediately.

“My administration will continue to work tirelessly to pursue every possible avenue to bring Brittney and Paul Whelan home safely as soon as possible.”

Wednesday, August 3 — WNBA players appeal to Russian court for leniency

Ahead of Thursday’s final arguments in Griner’s trial, Griner’s teammates and other WNBA players took to social media to appeal to the Russian court for leniency.

Arike Ogunbowale, who played in Russia for Dynamo Kursk, pointed to the connectivity of sport in connecting people and cultures.

“BG has always been great to me,” she wrote. “She’s a good person, and we miss her. She’s a basketball player who means so much to so many people around the world. I’m making a public appeal today for Brittney Griner, that the court shows her mercy and kindness.”

In an exclusive with Reuters, Las Vegas Aces head coach and former Russian national team star Becky Hammon spoke publicly about Griner for the first time. In the interview, she urged Russian president Vladimir Putin to free Griner.

“The time that she’s served over there, enough’s enough,” she said. “So many players have gone over to Russia, including myself. Russia has been very good to us as athletes. So to see Brittney being detained is upsetting.

“It’s something that obviously hits super close to home for me and so I just ask the Russian government to do the right thing. It’s never too late to do the right thing. At this point, whether she did or didn’t, it’s time to send her home.”

Other players also made video appeals that were shared with Reuters, including Seattle’s Breanna Stewart and Griner’s Mercury teammate Diana Taurasi.

“We called Russia our second home for many years. I ask, for the sanctity of sport, to have mercy and understanding for our beloved Brittney Griner,” said Taurasi.

Kristi Toliver, Courtney Vandersloot, Jonquel Jones and Emma Meesseman — all teammates of Griner’s with Ekaterinburg — also made public appeals.

“Brittney Griner won 7 Russian Championships and 4 Euroleague titles while playing for UMMC,” wrote Vandersloot. “We returned year after year and considered it a second home. I ask out of respect for the sanctity of sport, that Russia will have mercy and show compassion to BG as her trial ends.”

Toliver wrote that Griner has brought “so much light and grace” to Russia.

“I can only hope they can give her grace in return,” she wrote.

Amanda Zahui B., who played for Russia’s Dynamo Kursk from 2020 until 2021, called Griner one of the many “beautiful souls around the world” that she has gotten to know through basketball.

“There is not a moment BG has not brought happiness to the people around her,” she wrote. “I wish and pray that the court will show Brittney Griner the compassion and mercy she deserves and is worthy of.”

Tuesday, August 2 — Closing arguments of trial set for Thursday

Griner was back in court as an expert witness for the defense challenged the state’s analysis of the drugs found in her luggage. The specialist called the analysis flawed and said it didn’t conform to official rules, per ESPN.

The trial then adjourned until Thursday, with closing arguments scheduled for that date. ESPN’s T.J. Quinn has reported that a verdict and sentencing are expected Friday.

Griner could face up to 10 years in prison if convicted.

Russian officials have said that the only way for Griner to be exchanged and release is after a conviction.

Some experts are expecting a harsh sentencing. Washington attorney and former legal adviser to the U.S. Embassy in Moscow Tom Firestone told the Associated Press that a tougher sentence could be a way for Russia “to maximize their leverage in negotiations.”

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre updated reporters Monday on the negotiations for Griner’s release. She said that in response to the U.S. government’s offer of a prisoner exchange, Russia made a “bad faith” response with a counteroffer that American officials don’t consider to be serious.

Friday, July 29 — Russian Foreign Minister speaks with U.S. Secretary of State about prisoner swap

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov about the proposed prisoner swap involving Griner.

The Biden administration has presented a deal to Russia that would bring home Griner and fellow American Paul Whelan in exchange for convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.

Blinken called the phone call with Lavrov a “frank and direct conversation” — the first between the two since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began five months ago.

“I pressed the Kremlin to accept the substantial proposal that we put forth on the release of Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner,” said Blinken. However, Blinken said that he cannot give an assessment “of whether that is any more or less likely.”

Lavrov had said earlier Friday that he was open to discussing a potential deal with Blinken.

Thursday, July 28 — Russia wants prisoner swap to be negotiated without fanfare

Russia is open to negotiating with the United States for Griner’s release, but Russian officials warned Thursday that a potential prisoner swap involving the basketball star must be discussed quietly.

The news comes one day after U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the Biden administration made a “substantial proposal” weeks ago to bring home Griner and Paul Whelan.

“We know that such issues are discussed without any such release of information,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters during a conference call. “Normally, the public learns about it when the agreements are already implemented.”

He then emphasized that “no agreements have been finalized.” Peskov declined to give further details.

Separately, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said Russian and U.S. officials have been conducting negotiations but “there has been no concrete result yet.”

“We proceed from the assumption that interests of both parties should be taken into account during the negotiations,” Zakharova said.

Meanwhile, Griner’s defense team issued a statement that they had learned about the negotiations from the news and have not participated in the discussions.

“In any case, we would be really happy if Brittney will be able to come home and hope it will be soon,” lawyers Maria Blagovolina and Alexander Boikov said in a statement.

Wednesday, July 27 — Griner takes stand at trial, U.S. government offers prisoner swap

The WNBA star did not have her rights read to her upon her February arrest, she testified at her trial in Russian court. Griner faces up to 10 years in prison for drug charges.

She received an incomplete translation after her arrest, she said, and was told to sign documents without knowing what they meant, the Associated Press reported.

While Griner pleaded guilty to the charges against her earlier this month, she told the court she did not intend to bring the vape cartridges with cannabis oil found in her luggage into Russia. The prosecution is arguing that the 0.702 grams of cannabis oil found in the cartridges is a “significant” amount, the Washington Post reported.

“I still don’t understand how they ended up in my bag,” she said, according to the Washington Post. “I had no intention to break the law.”

Also on Wednesday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken revealed that the U.S. government has offered Russia a prisoner swap in exchange for Griner and another American, Paul Whelan.

“We communicated a substantial offer that we believe could be successful based on a history of conversations with the Russians,” a senior administration official told CNN.

Griner’s trial will resume Tuesday.

Tuesday, July 26 — Defense focuses on medical use of cannabis

Griner’s trial resumed Tuesday after a break of more than a week. The defense focused Tuesday on the medical use of cannabis, and Griner’s lawyers previously had submitted a doctor’s letter recommending to the basketball player the use of cannabis for pain management.

“We are not arguing that Brittney took it here as a medicine,” said Alexander Boikov, one of Griner’s lawyers. “We are still saying that she involuntarily brought it here because she was in a rush.”

Rather, the testimony on medical cannabis use is aimed at earning a mild sentence for Griner, the Associated Press reported.

“We have a lot of mitigating factors. So we do hope that the court will take it into consideration. And the courts in Russia, in fact, have very broad discretion with regard to the sentence,” said Maria Blagovolina, another lawyer for Griner.

Thursday, July 21 — Russia lashes out over ‘wrongful detention’ classification, U.S. Senate introduces resolution calling for release

A spokesperson for Russia’s Foreign Ministry lashed out at the U.S. for classifying Griner as “wrongfully detained.”

Maria Zakharova, who spoke on behalf of the Russian Foreign Ministry, said that it shows disrespect for Russian law. She also said the legalization of cannabis in the United States for both medical and recreational use does not matter in Russia.

“If a U.S. citizen was taken in connection with the fact that she was smuggling drugs, and she does not deny this, then this should be commensurate with our Russian, local laws, and not with those adopted in San Francisco, New York and Washington,” Zakharova said.

“You understand, if drugs are legalized in the United States, in a number of states, and this is done for a long time, and now the whole country will become drug-addicted, this does not mean that all other countries are following the same path.”

The statement comes after the ESPYs honored Griner and multiple athletes called on their fellow athletes to increase their calls for her release.

Also on Thursday, the United States Senate introduced a bipartisan resolution calling for Griner’s immediate release.

Similar to the one passed in the House of Representatives in June, the resolution was written by Sen. Mark Kelly and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, both Democrats from Arizona, as well as Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) and Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas).

“I’ve worked with the State Department to make sure that Brittney Griner’s safe return is a top priority, and this bipartisan resolution shows the Senate’s support for her as well,” Kelly said in a statement. “Brittney Griner is an inspiration to Arizonans and Americans across the country. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting her and seeing her talent on the court up close. The Russian government unjustly detained Brittney and we will keep working with the administration to ensure her safe and swift return.”

Part of the resolution states that the United Sates, during all interactions with Russia, should “raise the case of Brittney Griner and push for her release.” Support for Griner’s family was also offered, as well as for the family of Paul Whelan, another American detainee.

The resolution also calls on Russia to “provide consular access” to Griner and respect her human rights.

“Arizonans have love and admiration for Brittney Griner both on and off the court,” said Sen. Sinema in a statement. “The Department of State has determined that Brittney was wrongfully detained — it’s past time for her to come home.”

Thursday, July 14 — Russia warns U.S. not to pressure for Griner’s release as UMMC Ekaterinburg players, officials speak on her behalf

The Russian Foreign Ministry warned Washington about putting pressure on Moscow over prisoner exchanges.

Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova called the efforts “futile” while claiming that U.S. officials were attempting to use the pressure as leverage.

“We urge the U.S. authorities not to exploit this sensitive matter affecting the fates of certain individuals, and we advise them to abandon futile attempts to pressure us,” Zakharova said, saying that Washington needed to “work through established channels.”

“It simply won’t work any other way,” she said.

It’s the second such warning from Russia in eight days as Griner’s trial continues. The WNBA star appeared in court again Thursday after pleading guilty last week to carrying hashish oil in her luggage.

UMMC Ekaterinburg director Maksim Rybakov, team captain Evgeniya Belyakova and a team doctor all testified on Griner’s behalf Thursday.

Rybakov reportedly testified to Griner’s “outstanding abilities as a player and personal contribution to the strengthening the team’s spirit,” according to Griner’s lawyer, Maria Blagovolina.

Belyakova, meanwhile, called Griner “the heart of our team.” She also called Griner’s contribution to Russian basketball “invaluable.”

Later, outside the court, Belyakova told reporters, “We miss her very much. We miss her energy.”

Thursday, July 7 — Griner pleads guilty in Russian court, asks for mercy

The WNBA star pleaded guilty to drug charges in Russian court. Detained since February for the alleged possession of hashish oil, she faces up to 10 years in prison for charges of “large-scale transportation of drugs.”

Griner reportedly told a judge Thursday that she had brought drugs into the country “inadvertently” and asked for mercy.

“I was in a rush packing and the cartridges accidentally ended up in my bags,” she said.

In a statement, her legal team said that they hope the judge will take into account the fact that she took full accountability for her actions.

“Considering the nature of her case, the insignificant amount of the substance and BG’s personality and history of positive contributions to global and Russian sport, the defense hopes that the plea will be considered by the court as a mitigating factor and there will be no severe sentence,” they wrote.

Wednesday, July 6 — President Biden speaks with Cherelle Griner

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris spoke on the phone with Griner’s wife Cherelle Griner.

“The president called Cherelle to reassure her that he is working to secure Brittney’s release as soon as possible,” the White House said in a statement.

During the call, Biden also shared a draft of a letter he plans to send to the WNBA star. She had written a letter to Biden, which her representatives passed on to the White House on Monday.

Monday, July 4 — Griner makes direct appeal to President Biden

Griner wrote a letter to Biden advocating for her freedom. Her representatives delivered the letter to the White House and also released excerpts to the public.

“As I sit here in a Russian prison, alone with my thoughts and without the protection of my wife, family, friends, Olympic jersey, or any accomplishments, I’m terrified I might be here forever,” Griner wrote.

Friday, July 1 — Griner’s trial begins in Russian court then is delayed

Griner’s trial, which began Friday, was adjourned until the following Thursday after several witnesses reportedly failed to appear before the Russian court.

Griner appeared on June 27 at a court in the Moscow suburb of Khimki, where her detention was extended for an additional six months, a switch from her original order to remain in pretrial detention until July 2.

Saturday, June 25 — House of Representatives passes resolution calling for Griner’s release

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bipartisan resolution calling for the release of Griner from Russian custody.

“Not a day goes by that we aren’t thinking of Brittney and working to get her home,” said Democratic Rep. Greg Stanton of Arizona, who sponsored the resolution. “We will continue to push for her release and make sure that she is not forgotten.”

Monday, June 20 — Cherelle Griner says anniversary phone call never happened due to lack of staff at embassy

Griner and wife Cherelle were meant to speak on the phone on Sunday — their anniversary — but were unable to do so. Cherelle said Monday that despite trying to call her wife nearly a dozen times, the U.S. Embassy’s desk was unstaffed so the call went unanswered.

The couple has not spoken by phone since before Griner’s arrest.

Brittney reportedly had tried to call 11 times over several hours.

“I was distraught. I was hurt. I was done, fed up,” Cherelle Griner told the Associated Press. “I’m pretty sure I texted BG’s agent and was like: ‘I don’t want to talk to anybody. It’s going to take me a minute to get my emotions together, and just tell everybody I’m unavailable right now.’ Because it just knocked me out. I wasn’t well, I’m still not well.”

On Monday, the State Department said they “deeply regret that Brittney Griner was unable to speak with her wife because of a logistical error.” On Tuesday, State Department spokesman Ned Price called it a “logistical error.” He later said that the problem was exacerbated by the fact that staffing limitations have been placed on the embassy and its operations by the Russian government.

Another senior State Department official said that the call was meant to route through the Marine Guard station, which is staffed, but it was re-routed to an unstaffed location.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, in speaking with reporters, said that the State Department was working on arranging a new call. There is no word on when that will be.

“This was an unfortunate mistake,” Jean-Pierre said Tuesday, adding that, “the Department of State is working to rectify this as quickly as possible.”

Cherelle added that the error was “unacceptable” and that the phone call had been scheduled for two weeks. During that time, nobody made her aware of the staffing hours. The desk is normally staffed Monday through Fridays but not on the weekends.

“I have zero trust in our government right now,” she said. “If I can’t trust you to catch a Saturday call outside of business hours, how can I trust you to actually be negotiating on my wife’s behalf to come home? Because that’s a much bigger ask than to catch a Saturday call.”

Tuesday, June 14 — Russian court extends Griner’s detention through at least July 2

Russian state media outlet TASS reported that Griner’s detention has been extended through at least July 2, according to ABC News. So she will remain in custody for at least 18 more days. This marks the third time that her detention has been extended.

Monday, June 13 — State Department meets with Phoenix Mercury

State Department officials met with the Phoenix Mercury regarding the detention of Griner in Russia. The State Department confirmed the meeting, which included officials from the office tasked with helping Americans who have been wrongfully detained or are considered to be hostages.

“It was great to hear from the State Department that we should continue to amplify that message and that we should continue to press all those who have any influence or power to help bring BG home,” Mercury coach Vanessa Nygaard said. “She’s our teammate, she’s an American and we want her back home.”

Wednesday, May 25 — Cherelle Griner calls on President Biden to act

Cherelle Griner, wife of Brittney Griner, is calling on President Biden and U.S. officials to act.

In an interview with “Good Morning America” co-anchor Robin Roberts that aired Wednesday, Cherelle Griner pressed for urgency around her wife’s case.

“I just keep hearing that he has the power,” Griner said of Biden. “She’s a political pawn. So if they’re holding her because they want you to do something, then I want you to do it.”

Friday, May 20 — State Department says consular officer has visited Griner

Ned Price, a State Department spokesperson, said Friday that a consular officer was able to gain access to Griner for the second time in a week. A visit occurred on Thursday in which the official “found her continuing to do as well as could be expected under these exceedingly challenging circumstances.”

“But again, our message is a clear and simple one — we continue to insist that Russia allow consistent and timely consular access to all U.S. citizen detainees,” Price said in a briefing. “One-off visits are not sufficient, and we will continue to call on Moscow to uphold its commitments under the Vienna Convention for consistent and timely access as well.”

According to ESPN, sources close to Griner have said that her lawyers have been able to see her at least once a week.

Tuesday, May 17 — Secretary of State Antony Blinken has spoken with Cherelle Griner, U.S. Embassy says they’ve been denied visits

According to a senior State Department official, Blinken has spoken with Cherelle Griner, Brittney Griner’s wife. Blinken told Cherelle Griner that Brittney’s release has his full attention.

Also on Tuesday, the U.S. Embassy said it has been denied visits to Griner three times in the month of May. Griner’s agent Lindsay Kawagawa Colas said this proves that the athlete is being “used as a political bargaining chip.”

“No athlete representing any country should have to travel in fear of being taken and used as a negotiating tool,” she wrote on Twitter . “We must protect the sanctity of sport and the entire global sports community should stand together and demand Brittney Griner’s release.”

NBA commissioner Adam Silver spoke with ESPN’s Malika Andrews, saying that the league has been in touch with “every level of government” as well as contacts in the private sector as it lends its support to the efforts to return Griner to the United States.

“Our No. 1 priority is her health and safety and making sure that she gets out of Russia,” he said.

He added that the league is working “side by side” with the WNBA for her release.

Monday, May 16 — WNPBA joins petition calling on U.S. officials to bring Griner home

Following the reclassification of Griner’s case, players and others increased their calls to bring her home. The WNBPA signed on to a petition on calling on U.S. officials to prioritize her safe return.

As of May 17, the petition had 136,525 signatures.

Friday, May 13 — Griner’s detention extended, denied home detention request

Griner’s detention was extended by a month. According to ESPN’s T.J. Quinn, she was meant to appear in court on May 19, but the date was moved up suddenly. Alexander Boikov, Griner’s lawyer, told the Associated Press that he believed that the short extension meant the case would come to trial soon.

A request by Griner to move to home detention was denied.

Tuesday, May 3 — U.S. State Department shifts case, considers Griner “wrongfully detained”

According to an ESPN report, the U.S. government changed Griner’s case status and deemed her “wrongfully detained” by the Russian government. As a result, the U.S. government can be involved in negotiating her release.

In addition, the WNBA announced that roster and salary cap relief would be provided to the Mercury, allowing them to bring on a replacement player. Griner will still receive her full salary.

Monday, April 11 — Commissioner Cathy Engelbert says the WNBA is “working diligently” to bring home Griner

WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert said the league is “working diligently” to bring Griner home and that they are working “every angle.”

“This is an unimaginable situation for BG to be in,” she said. “She continues to have our full support. She’s just been such a great person in the league that I can’t be any more real about the situation she’s in.”

Wednesday, March 23 — U.S. officials meet with Griner

For the first time, U.S. consular officials were allowed to visit Griner in Russia, with a State Department spokesperson confirming that she was well — but her bunk was about a foot too short for the 6-f00t-9 basketball player.

Griner also reportedly communicated with her family via attorneys.

Thursday, March 17 — Griner’s detention extended

Russian news agency TASS reported that Griner’s detention would be extended until at least May 19. According to TASS, the extension was meant to allow time for an investigation into the incident.

According to CNN, Griner’s legal team was in contact with Griner and she was well.

Wednesday, March 9 — U.S. administration is “working hard” to help Griner

U.S. Rep. Colin Allred (D-Texas) spoke about Griner, saying that the Biden administration is “working hard” to get access to the Mercury star and help her.

“But obviously, it’s also happening in the context of really strained relations,” he said. “I do think that it’s really unusual that we’ve not been granted access to her from our embassy and our consular services.”

Allred added that the Russian criminal justice system is different from the system in the U.S. He referred to it as “opaque.”

“We don’t have a lot of insight into where she is in that process right now,” he said. “But she’s been held for three weeks now, and that’s extremely concerning.”

Tuesday, March 8 — Russian State television releases custody photo

Russian state television aired a booking photo of Griner taken at a Russian police station, the first photo to be released since Griner’s arrest. She can be seen holding up a piece of paper with her name on it.

While it was unclear when the photo was taken, it was reportedly taken at a Moscow police station.

U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham told TMZ that he “very much” worries about the WNBA star and other Americans currently in Russia. He added that he knows “the State Department is involved.”

“We need to put all the pressure we can to make sure this young lady comes home,” he said.

Monday, Mar. 7 – Cherelle Griner: “There are no words to express this pain”

Brittney Griner’s wife Cherelle took to Instagram, where she said that her family is “hurting.”

“There’s not a task in this world that could keep any of us from worrying about you,” she wrote to Griner.

Sunday, Mar. 6 – U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken declares support for Griner

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that the State Department stands “ready to provide every possible assistance” to Americans detained “anywhere in the world.”

“There’s only so much I can say given the privacy considerations at this point,” Blinken said of Griner. “We have an embassy team that’s working on the cases of other Americans who are detained in Russia. We’re doing everything we can to see to it that their rights are upheld and respected.”

Additionally a WNBA spokesperson said that as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine all league players other than Griner had exited both countries.

Saturday, Mar. 5 – News of Griner’s detainment is released

The New York Times and TASS broke the news of Griner’s detainment. Customs service from the airport where she was arrested released a video of an individual who appeared to be Griner going through security and having her bags searched.

At this point, Griner had been in Russian custody for a little over two weeks. According to a statement released by the Russian Federal Customs Service and obtained by the New York Times, a criminal case was opened into the “large-scale transportation of drugs.”

Thursday, Feb. 17 – Brittney Griner is detained in Russia

While her detainment did not become public knowledge until weeks later, she was arrested in February, Allred revealed when speaking about Griner on March 9.

Customs officials at an airport outside Moscow allegedly found hashish oil in Griner’s luggage. Griner was traveling to play for Russian club UMMC Ekaterinburg.

Serena Williams is ‘super interested’ in owning a WNBA team

Serena Williams speaks on stage during keynote conversation at 2019 conference in San Jose, California
The tennis icon is all in on women's sports — and the WNBA is right on her heels. (Photo by Marla Aufmuth/WireImage via Getty Images)

Could Serena Williams co-own a WNBA team in the near future? 

Speaking with CNN on Monday, Williams expressed her interest in that potential — as well as the mounting enthusiasm for women’s sports around the world. 

"I think women’s sport is having a moment that it should have always had," Williams said. "I feel like tennis has had its moment. It’s international, and it’s huge, and it’s always gonna be there.

"Now it’s time to lift up other sports — women’s soccer, women’s basketball — there’s so many other sports that women do so great, let’s put it on that platform. Women’s basketball is getting there, and it’s arrived."

When asked if she had any interest in adding a WNBA team to her roster of ownership stakes, the tennis great welcomed the idea. "I absolutely would be," Williams said. "With the right market, I would definitely be super interested in that."

"There is no risk — women’s sport is exciting," Williams added, citing the 2024 NCAA women's tournament's record-breaking viewership as evidence. "People are realizing that it is exciting to watch, so it's an overly safe bet."

Williams may not need to wait long to act on that bet. On Monday, WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said that she is "pretty confident" the league will expand to 16 teams — up from its current 12 — by 2028. 

The goal, she said, is to reach 14 by 2026. Oakland's Golden State is already on track to launch the league's 13th team in 2025. The move will mark the WNBA's first new franchise since the Atlanta Dream debuted in 2008.

"It's complex because you need the arena and practice facility and player housing and all the things," Engelbert said at a press conference before Monday's WNBA draft. "You need committed long-term ownership groups, and so the nice thing is we're getting a lot of calls."

Engelbert went on to name a few of the cities behind those calls, saying that the league continues to engage in discussions with Philadelphia, Toronto, Portland, Denver, and Nashville, as well as South Florida.

"These can either take a very long time to negotiate or it can happen pretty quickly if you find the right ownership group with the right arena situation," Engelbert added.

The Commissioner's 16 team goal is not only good news for WNBA fans, it's great news for current and future WNBA players. At 12 teams with just 12 roster spots each, the league is held to a total of 144 players for any given season. An abundance of fresh talent coming up through the NCAA ranks has put pressure on the organization to make room for more worthy competitors, and four additional teams might be just the ticket.

Hellen Obiri claims back-to-back Boston Marathon wins

Hellen Obiri, winner of the women's division of the Boston Marathon, poses with the Boston Marathon trophy
Hellen Obiri, winner of the 2024 Boston Marathon's women's division, poses with her trophy. (Photo by Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Kenyan runner Hellen Obiri won the 128th Boston Marathon on Monday, becoming the first woman to claim back-to-back titles since 2005.

She clocked a total time of 2 hours, 27 minutes, and 37 seconds in a women's division that race organizers described as "historically fast."

"Defending the title was not easy," Obiri said. "Since Boston started, it's only six women [that have repeated]. If you want to be one of them, you have to work extra hard. And I'm so happy because I'm now one of them — I'm now in the history books."

A two-time Olympic silver medalist and two-time 5000m world champion, Obiri is a clear favorite in this summer’s Paris Olympics.

“Last year I was pretty familiar to the marathon, but this year my training was perfect — we trusted everything we were doing,” Obiri said. “When we won last year, of course I was saying I’m going to win this one. Winning is like love. It’s something precious to me.”

Though, she wasn’t without a challenge. Fellow Kenyan Sharon Lokedi finished a mere eight seconds behind Obiri. Edna Kiplagat, who won the 2017 Boston Marathon, completed the podium sweep for Kenya with a third place finish.

Emma Bates, the race's top American finisher, came in 12th.

Obiri wasn't alone in making Boston Marathon history this year. The repeat champ walked away with $150,000 in total prize money allocated from a purse that topped $1 million for the first time ever. 

College rivals Angel Reese, Kamilla Cardoso drafted to the Chicago Sky

Angel Reese and Kamilla Cardoso competing at the NCAA SEC Conference Tournament Championship
Once rivals, Angel Reese and Kamilla Cardoso are now teammates. (Jim Dedmon/USA TODAY Sports)

The Chicago Sky made a splash in Monday night’s WNBA draft, taking Kamilla Cardoso and Angel Reese in the first round. 

South Carolina’s Cardoso, who was the 2024 Final Four Most Outstanding Player, went third to the Sky. The day before, the team had swapped picks with the Minnesota Lynx to land the No. 7 pick as well, which they used on Reese, the 2023 Final Four MOP.

Now, the two will team up in Chicago after battling each other in both college and high school

"She’s a great player, and I’m a great player. Nobody's going to get no rebounds on us," Cardoso joked afterwards, while Reese expressed excitement about playing under new Sky head coach Teresa Weatherspoon.

"Being able to be a Black woman and as a head coach, and everything she's done at the NBA level, I just knew everything they were bringing to the table," Reese said of the Sky. "Player development is something that I was looking for and they looked for in me. I'm super excited for this move."

Former NBA star and Chicago Sky co-owner Dwayne Wade welcomed the pair to Chicago.

“The foundation is set,” he wrote.

The Sky have entered re-building mode after winning a WNBA title in 2021. This offseason, they traded franchise cornerstone Kahleah Copper to the Phoenix Mercury for a package that included the No. 3 picked used on Cardoso.

Now, Cardoso and Reese will be looking to jump-start the team's return to contention.

Watch: Iowa star Kate Martin’s draft moment goes viral

Kate Martin poses with Cathy Engelbert after being drafted by the Las Vegas Aces during the 2024 WNBA Draft in New York
2nd-round pick Kate Martin poses with Cathy Engelbert Commissioner of the WNBA at the 2024 draft. (Photo by Catalina Fragoso/NBAE via Getty Images)

Former Iowa captain Kate Martin was in the audience during Monday night’s draft when she was selected 18th overall by the Las Vegas Aces. 

The moment quickly went viral, as Martin was in the crowd to support superstar teammate Caitlin Clark going No. 1 overall, and was not one of the 14 players invited to the draft.

"To be honest, I don't think I'd have the type of career if I don't have a teammate like Kate," Clark said about Martin leading up to the 2024 national championship game. "She's been one that has had my back. She holds me accountable. I hold her accountable. But I think at the same time, me and Kate are wired so similarly that we get each other on a different level."

Martin being drafted marks the first time that Iowa has had two players selected in the same WNBA draft since 1998.

“She's one of the best leaders I've been around," Clark said. "She wants the best for her teammates. She's one of the most selfless people."

Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said Monday that she is “so proud” of her player, “because her dreams came true.”

"She has been such a big part of our program over the last six years,” she said. “Her efforts did not go unnoticed by her peers. I wish Kate all the success with this next step.”

Martin said afterward that she’s “excited for the opportunity” and to showcase her “really good” work ethic. Helping Iowa to back-to-back NCAA title games, Martin finished her college career with 1,299 points, 756 rebounds and 473 assists.

“There are a lot of emotions right now,” Martin said in an interview on ESPN. “I’m really happy to be here. I was here to support Caitlin, but I was hoping to hear my name called. All I wanted was an opportunity and I got it. I’m really excited.”

While Martin was watching from the crowd, her family was watching from back home.

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