WNBA All-Star Weekend brought most of the league to Chicago for three days of celebration and competition. Missing was one of the league’s brightest stars, Brittney Griner.
Griner has been detained in Russia for close to five months and pleaded guilty Thursday to drug possession and smuggling. Regardless of her plea, the U.S. State Department views Griner as wrongfully detained. Griner’s Russian legal team issued a statement Friday saying it expects the trial to conclude at the beginning of August.
ESPN reported that Griner’s guilty plea was a tactic to help facilitate a prisoner swap and an acknowledgment that she wasn’t going to be acquitted in court.
While the WNBA’s All-Stars fielded questions about basketball, Griner’s name remained at the forefront.
Civil-rights activist Al Sharpton held a news conference Friday night with Griner’s wife, Cherelle. They were joined by Women’s National Basketball Players Association executive director Terri Jackson, president Nneka Ogwumike and vice president Sue Bird.
“Brittney Griner is an American hero,” Ogwumike said Friday. “Our 144 have always stood together as sisters in allyship. It’s part of our DNA as team-sport athletes and as women who have often been undervalued and must move together to be seen. But what America needs to understand is Brittney Griner is you, too.”
Griner’s name also was on the warmup T-shirts of the 22 All-Stars and the skills competitors along with her jersey number. Many members of the Sky, including Allie Quigley, Courtney Vandersloot and Emma Meesseman, have personal ties to Griner after playing overseas with her for UMMC Ekaterinburg, the team she was returning to when she was detained Feb. 17.
Along with the warmup T-shirts, the league will honor Brittney and Cherelle Griner during the All-Star Game on Sunday.
Fowles and Bird
Sylvia Fowles and Bird are serving as co-captains in the last All-Star Game of their careers. It will be Fowles’ eighth All-Star appearance and Bird’s 13th. Both stressed the importance of having fun.
For Fowles, making her last All-Star appearance in Chicago carries a special significance.
“I’m happy to see my career flourish and to play again on the Chicago floor,” Fowles said. “I got drafted here in 2008, and to have this opportunity to play my last All-Star Game back in Chicago means a lot, and I get to do it with two special girls.”
Fowles is the co-captain on A’ja Wilson’s team and is reunited with former Sky teammate Vandersloot and joined by longtime adversary Candace Parker.
After captains Wilson and Breanna Stewart drafted their All-Star teams, the Sky were left split down the middle.
General manager/coach James Wade is coaching Stewart’s team, which features Kahleah Copper and Meesseman. Las Vegas Aces coach Becky Hammon will lead Wilson’s team featuring Parker and Vandersloot. They dished out trash talk all week, but none more so than Copper.
“It’s funny because those two are the top, top competitive people on the team,” Copper said. “So it’s even more fun to compete against them and even more fun to talk more trash.’’