WNBA Finals: Cathy Engelbert calls Brittney Griner's Russian detainment 'unacceptable'

LAS VEGAS — Ahead of tipoff of the 2022 WNBA Finals on Sunday, Commissioner Cathy Engelbert called Brittney Griner’s wrongful detainment in Russia “unacceptable” and shared Griner recently wrote her a letter as the league continues to work with the U.S. State Department to bring Griner home.

Griner has been wrongfully detained in Russia for more than 200 days after Russian officials found less than a gram of hashish oil in her luggage at the airport in February. Griner was found guilty of drug possession and drug smuggling in August and was sentenced to a nine-year prison term by a Russian judge.

“I recently received a handwritten letter from BG, and I am so inspired by her courage in the face of enormous adversity,” Engelbert said. “We are fully focused on getting her home safely, and she remains such an important part of the WNBA family.”

Engelbert shared that Griner ended her letter with, “I’m staying strong.”

Brittney Griner during her trial in Russia as she awaited the verdict in August. (Photo by EVGENIA NOVOZHENINA/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Brittney Griner during her trial in Russia as she awaited the verdict in August. (Photo by EVGENIA NOVOZHENINA/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Engelbert opened her pre-Finals address with Griner, calling on the Russian government to do more to work with the U.S. in freeing Griner.

U.S. President Joe Biden has said the U.S. government “would continue to work tirelessly” to free Griner.

“It's a full-court press with the State Department. We have been working with them. I can't ask more from this administration on working on this very complex situation to get her home,” Engelbert said. “ … 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.”

She said she has been sending letters to Griner through her attorneys, and the handwritten note from Griner was heartfelt and showed appreciation for what the commissioner and league are doing on her behalf.

“I was thrilled. 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,” Engelbert said. “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 saying strong, and thank you.’ It was short and handwritten and really inspiring to me given how adverse her situation is.”

WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert speaks during a news conference before Game 1 of the 2022 WNBA Finals between the Connecticut Sun and the Las Vegas Aces at Michelob ULTRA Arena in Las Vegas on Sept.  11, 2022. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)