PHOENIX (AP) – A purple-orange crowd made its way through the maze of barricades that these days fill downtown Phoenix, the excitement growing with each step toward the center of the trail.
Their voices, no longer muffled by traffic and tractors, created in the arena such a sensitive buzz that can only create the first season.
At the bottom flowed a stream of fear and grief for one missing person.
Britney Greener, a seven-time All-Star Player and key screw in two trips to the WNBA Finals, was not with Phoenix Mercury in her first game against Las Vegas Aces on Friday night. As Mercury and the rest of the WNBA advanced into the season, Greener was approaching a three-month mark her detention in Russiawithout a schedule of her release.
“It’s awful what happened to her, knowing just as some of us fans got to know her,” said Michael J. Hill, owner of the Mercury season ticket from the first WNBA season in 1997, who wore a “Free BG” T-shirt. . “She’s a kind and gentle person, and it’s scary to think about where she is and what she’s going through.”
Greener was detained on February 17 after Moscow airport authorities said they had found vape cartridges in her luggage that allegedly contained cannabis oil, which could result in a maximum sentence of up to 10 years in prison. The Biden administration determined that Griner was illegally detained. A hearing in a Russian court is scheduled for May 19.
WNBA and U.S. officials have been working to release Greener, but have so far failed with the Russian government.
“Not a day goes by that I don’t work on this in some way, talking to different people from the US government, its agents, family, other professionals in the field who can help us navigate a very challenging and honestly like me spoke on our draft, an unimaginable situation, ”said WNBA Commissioner Katie Engelbert in Seattle.
The WNBA and Mercury initially did not say anything for fear of aggravating the situation in Greener, but became louder as her detention lasted longer. Several players have spoken out about Greener’s detention, including Seattle Storm striker Breana Stewart. who tweeted daily about her.
“BG thinks of me every day,” Stewart said before the game “Storm” against “Minnesota Links” on Friday night. “There are times when you just can’t believe she’s still illegally detained in Russia. Hope we get her home. The WNBA is not the WNBA without BG. ”
The WNBA recognizes Greener this season as a floor sticker with “BG” and her number 42 in all 12 arenas across the league as she continues to be in custody.
Washington has placed a sticker on the blue side line between the benches at the Mystic Arena in the nation’s capital, next to the “Living Black Matters” sticker. Some Indiana Fever substitutes were sitting on the ground near “BG42”, waiting for a break in the game so they could enter the game.
“We are all concerned about a situation that is usually resolved much faster,” said Washington coach Mike Thibaut. ”(It) certainly wasn’t, and I think everyone sees what’s going on. She is in everyone’s mind. “
Mercury players wore black T-shirts with the words “We Are BG” in white letters during warm-ups and dating. Guard Sophie Cunningham addressed the crowd before the game against Las Vegas.
“We still hope she will come back to us soon, but by then we will be kicking and winning the game,” she said.
Green’s absence seemed to affect Mercury after the game began, both emotionally and on the floor. Phoenix, who missed two other key players due to injuries, fell into a big early hole and lost 106-88.
“We didn’t put up much resistance in the first half,” said Mercury guard Skylar Diggins-Smith. “We know we need to get better. This is the first time we are all there. They were more physical, they got to their seats, shared basketball, and we lacked on both sides of the floor. “
Chicago Sky season ticket owner Monty Apostolas wore a white hoodie Friday night that read “Free Britney Griner Now!” front and “WOMENHOOPTO MOVEMENT” rear. She also had a sign with the words “Free BG # 42” with a ball passing through the net.
“I’m worried about her emotional well-being,” said Apostolas, whose niece Jewel Lloyd plays for the Seattle Storm. “I want her to know that we love her and that every day we do our best to make sure – keep it there, keep it ahead that they still know – and hopefully she will get the word out and hopefully she will released. “
Central 6 feet 9, Greener and WNBA career leader Diana Tauras were key players in the Mercury franchise, which won the 2014 WNBA title and reached the final last season, losing to Chicago Sky.
Greener is a six-time All-Star, has won the WNBA’s Best Defender of the Year Award in 2014-15 and is the most prolific Dunker in WNBA history. A two-time gold medalist, she spent one of the best seasons of her nine-year career in the WNBA in 2021, leading the WNBA in block shots, finishing second in points and sixth in rebounds.
Greener was expected to play a key role for Mercury again this season after the team added Tina Charles and Diamond DeShields to their list.
AP sports authors Howard Fendrich of Washington, Tim Booth of Seattle and Andrew Seligman of Chicago contributed to this report.
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