Phoenix Mercury star Brittney Griner was the talk of the town as the WNBA All-Star game got underway in Chicago on Sunday.
Griner was named an honorary All-Star player this year and every effort has been made to raise awareness of her situation.
It comes after the two-time US Olympic basketball champion pleaded guilty to drug charges in a Russian court near Moscow on Thursday, but the US State Department says she was wrongly imprisoned.
She now faces up to 10 years in prison.
Prior to the game, Griner’s name was announced along with a graphic of her while her initials were displayed on the sidelines.
Players wearing jerseys with Griner’s name and number on the back also appeared in the second half as Team Wilson defeated Team Stewart 134-112.
“We’re honestly the most unified league in the world and wearing the shirts was a statement to show we’re BG [Brittney Griner]’ A’ja Wilson told reporters after the game.
“She is our sister and at the end of the day we will do whatever it takes to reinforce the platform we need to have to make sure everyone is doing what they need to be doing to make sure she gets home safely.
“It’s hard. It’s hard for all of us. It’s not easy. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of Brittney Griner.
“So wearing her jersey and letting the world know that we’re not whole without her, I think that’s a statement in itself.”
Even before the game started, league commissioner Cathy Engelbert opened her press conference by mentioning that bringing Griner home remains the league’s priority.
“I really want to start and just reiterate that at this point we are thinking of Brittney Griner,” she said.
“She remains a major priority for us and continues to have our full support and is fully focused on getting her home safely and as quickly as possible.”
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Griner’s wife, Cherelle, was present at the All-Star Game and said it’s “always difficult being around basketball without my wife.”
“I just use these moments as a way of showing gratitude for her legacy and her influence, you know, even in her absence, you can’t say Brittney Griner,” Cherelle told ESPN.
“I’m just so grateful that everyone in this arena actually still remembers my wife, even though she’s not here.”
Brittney, in a handwritten letter to President Joe Biden, said she feared she would be held indefinitely in Russia and asked the president not to forget her and other American detainees.
“What I do know is that President Biden and his administration took the time to actually write BG back and for that she is so grateful,” Cherelle added when asked about the letter.
“I firmly believe that the next step on this journey is to support our administration to ensure they have our support to do whatever is necessary to bring them back home.”