The Phoenix Mercury aren’t the same. Their budding rivalry with the Aces isn’t the same.
The WNBA isn’t the same.
And it won’t be until Brittney Griner is free.
Griner remains in Russia, where she was arrested in February at an airport outside Moscow for allegedly traveling with cannabis vaping cartridges in her luggage. Monday marked the 88th day since the the 31-year-old daughter, wife, sister, dog mom and friend was “wrongfully detained,” per the American government.
The State Department said earlier this month in a statement provided to various media outlets that “the welfare and safety of U.S. citizens abroad is among the highest priorities of the U.S government. … The U.S. government will continue to undertake efforts to provide appropriate support to Ms. Griner.”
But Russia on Friday extended Griner’s detention another 30 days, meaning there is not yet a definitive end to the senseless saga that weighs so heavily on the league and the hearts of its players.
She faces drug smuggling charges that carry up to 10 years in prison for carrying the same kind of cartridges that are legally available at dispensaries all throughout the Las Vegas Valley.
“Starting the season and her not being here, it’s so different. I don’t know a league without her being in it,” said Aces point guard Chelsea Gray, Griner’s teammate last summer during the Olympics in Tokyo.
“It’s a hard thing to people that are close to her. You can’t get a text message. Can’t hear her voice. It’s just a completely different world right now.”
A 6-9 void
The “BG42” decals are on the playing surfaces inside each of the WNBA’s arenas, ensuring its fans and players know about the 6-foot-9-inch void the league is experiencing. With or without the decals, though, there’s not a day Gray, fellow Olympic teammate A’ja Wilson and the rest of the WNBA’s players aren’t thinking about the former Baylor star.
“The conversation is constantly going,” Gray said. “We see her name. Her initials, her number. We have to see that. We’re thinking of that every single time. We’re keeping our heads and spirits with her. Her family.”
The public knows Griner as one of the best basketball players ever. A two-way dunking dynamo with practically every basketball accolade imaginable forever attached to her name. Gray and Wilson think of her, though, as “someone with a big heart” who “means well with all that she does.”
Mercury teammate Brianna Tuner tweeted last week that Griner shares her food on road trips with the homeless, urging others to do the same.
Wilson recalled Monday after practice how Griner was so relaxed in Tokyo the day before the gold-medal game that she casually enjoyed a meal comprised of Cheetos, Skittles and Sprite. That meal powered a 30-point performance — on 14-of-18 shooting no less — and the Americans’ seventh consecutive gold medal.
“I love that about her because she doesn’t change,” Wilson said. “I just hope that everyone is doing what they need to do to get her back.”
Wilson via Twitter on Saturday shared an online petition backed by the league’s players association that seeks support for Griner’s release.
It had nearly 135,000 signatures as of Monday afternoon.
“It is imperative that the U.S. government immediately address this human rights issue and do whatever is necessary to return Brittney home quickly and safely,” it reads. “White House and Biden Administration, we ask that you take action today — doing whatever is necessary — to bring Brittney Griner home swiftly and safely.”
Wilson offered her own succinct summary of the situation Monday before leaving the court inside Michelob Ultra Arena, where she’ll return Tuesday to play the Mercury for the second time this season sans Griner.
“Free BG ‘til its backwards. You heard?”
Loud and clear.
Contact Sam Gordon at email@example.com. Follow @BySamGordon on Twitter.