The WNBA will honor Phoenix star Brittney Griner with a floor decal and allow the Mercury to pay her without it counting against the team’s salary cap, the league announced Tuesday.
The All-Star center remains in Russia after being detained following her arrival at a Moscow airport on Feb. 17. Russian authorities said a search of her luggage revealed vape cartridges that allegedly contained oil derived from cannabis, which could carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison. She has a hearing set for May 19.
The Biden administration determined that Griner is being wrongfully detained in Russia, meaning the United States will more aggressively work to secure her release even as the legal case against her plays out, the State Department said Tuesday.
”We just want her home. I’m glad that they are trying to do something,” said New York Liberty coach Sandy Brondello, who previously coached Griner in Phoenix. ”They had that prisoner release last week that gave me hope that BG would be one of the next ones out. I can’t imagine what she’s going through. Hopefully she’ll be out sooner than later.”
Brondello was happy with the league’s creation of the decal.
”There’s not a day I don’t think about BG. I was trying to message with her family yesterday. She’s in everyone’s mind,” she said. ”She can’t be forgotten. She means so much to so many people. I coached her for a long time and she’s like family. I think it’s a great step.”
The decal will feature Griner’s initials as well as her No. 42. All 12 WNBA teams will have the decal on their home courts starting with the season opener Friday night. The Mercury open their season at home that night against the Las Vegas Aces.
”As we begin the 2022 season, we are keeping Brittney at the forefront of what we do through the game of basketball and in the community,” WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said. ”We continue to work on bringing Brittney home and are appreciative of the support the community has shown BG and her family during this extraordinarily challenging time.”
The league also approved giving the Mercury both roster and salary cap relief so that they can carry a replacement player until Griner returns home. Griner will be paid her full salary of nearly $228,000.
Engelbert announced at the WNBA draft that there would be a league-wide charity initiative spearheaded by the Mercury to support Griner’s philanthropic project, called BG’s Heart and Sole Shoe Drive, which helps the homeless.
”In conjunction with the league, the other 11 teams, and those closest to BG, we will work to keep her top of mind as we tip the 2022 season,” Mercury Executive Vice President and GM Jim Pitman said. ”While we await her return, our main concern remains for her safety and well-being. Our fans will miss her impact on the court and in our community, and this gesture of including her initials on every court and our BG’s Heart and Sole Shoe Drive activation in every market are for them and for her.”
Griner had one of her best seasons last year – she was the league’s second-leading scorer and finished sixth in rebounds. She helped the Mercury reach the WNBA Finals, where they lost to the Chicago Sky.
Associated Press Writers Eric Tucker and Matt Lee in Washington contributed to this report.
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