Brittney Griner sent ‘heartfelt’ letter to WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert

A fan holds a sign for Brittney Griner ahead of a game at Climate Pledge Arena in Seattle this season. (Joshua Huston/NBAE via Getty Images)

WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert provided an update on Brittney Griner, who has been wrongfully detained in Russia since February, ahead of Game 1 of the WNBA Finals on Sunday.

“We continue to work with the State Department and the U.S. government and administration and others on this very complex situation,” Engelbert said. “I recently received a handwritten letter from BG and I am so inspired by her courage in the face of enormous adversity.”

The Phoenix Mercury star was sentenced to nine years in a Russian penal colony in early August after being convicted of drug smuggling charges. Lawyers for the WNBA star filed an appeal, arguing that her sentence was excessive and citing similar cases where defendants received sentences closer to five years.

Engelbert revealed that she has been writing to Griner periodically throughout the WNBA season and recently received a message back from the 31-year-old.

“She wrote a letter back to me. I was thrilled,” Englebert said. “It was heartfelt. She was very grateful. She knows the efforts that I personally and the league are doing to try to help get her home safely and as soon as possible and she ended with it, ‘I’m staying strong.’

“I have chills right now just saying that, she ended it with, ‘You should know I’m staying strong, and thank you.’”

U.S. officials have been vocal about negotiating a prisoner swap to secure Griner’s release. Bill Richardson, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, spoke out on the issue during an August appearance on ABC’s “This Week.”

“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 told host George Stephanopoulos.

Whelan, a U.S. citizen and former Marine, was detained in Russia in 2018 before being convicted on espionage charges and sentenced to 16 years in prison.

As of Monday, Griner has been detained for 207 days.

“We need the Russians to step up here and get the deal that the President put on the table and get that deal done and get her home safely,” Engelbert concluded.