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Mercury, Sun honor Brittney Griner with emotional tribute after Russia prison sentence

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·3 min read
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Just hours after she was sentenced to nine years in prison on the other side of the world, the Phoenix Mercury and Connecticut Sun came together for a touching, emotional tribute to Brittney Griner ahead of their game on Thursday night.

Both the Mercury and the Sun joined arms together at halfcourt at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Connecticut for 42 seconds, honoring Griner’s jersey number, while fans in attendance started chanting, “bring her home.”

"It's not anything we're politicizing," Phoenix guard Skylar Diggins-Smith said after their loss to the Sun, via ESPN. "This is a human being and our real-life friend and real-life sister. I don't expect everybody to give a damn. But we really do.

"And we come out here and we're still supposed to play this f***ing game. Nobody wanted to even play today. How are you supposed to approach the game with a clear mind, and the whole group is crying before the game? Because you try to honor her and you try to come out and still play hard for her."

Griner was sentenced to nearly a decade in Russian prison on Thursday after she was found guilty of drug possession and drug smuggling with criminal intent. The Phoenix Mercury star has been in custody in the country since February, when officials said she had vape cartridges with hashish oil in her luggage at a Moscow airport.

The United States government has declared Griner a wrongfully detained citizen, and President Joe Biden described her sentence as “unacceptable.”

"I call on Russia to release her immediately so she can be with her wife, loved ones, friends, and teammates," Biden said before pledging to “work tirelessly and pursue every possible avenue” to bring her home.

The United States has offered Russia a “substantial proposal” to release Griner and Paul Whelan, who is also considered wrongfully detained. Specifics of that deal are not known.

"None of our tough days are as tough as any of the BG's days, right?" Phoenix coach Vanessa Nygaard said before the game, via ESPN. "So we always keep that in mind, and we've carried this with us for the season every day. But today is really, really tough.

"We had the players in the locker room watching the verdict as we were preparing to do our shootaround. And then just to go out there and do basketball ... basketball just doesn't seem like the thing today. It just doesn't seem super-important. Of course, we are prepared. The players are very professional, came out did what they needed to do, and we prepared for the game.

"But going back and listening to her words today, seeing how she's treated in Russia, hearing her apologies ... it's just heartbreaking."

U.S. basketball player Brittney Griner
Brittney Griner was sentenced to nine years in Russian prison on Thursday. (Reuters/Evvgenia Novozhenina)