Since Brittney Griner’s arrest in Russia 140 days ago, her teammate Brianna Turner wrote her two letters. On the 139th day, she got a response. The handwritten letter penned by Griner brought Turner to tears.
In the correspondence, Turner informed Griner that the WNBA named her an honorary All-Star starter. Griner replied jokingly that she’ll have the worst stat line since she can’t even be at the game.
“She still has her sense of humor,” Turner said. “It’s just insane.”
That story earned a healthy roar of laughter from the crowd at the “Bring BG Home” rally coordinated by the Mercury and the office of Arizona congressman Greg Stanton. The Mercury organization along with Griner’s wife, Cherelle, and more than 400 fans joined together to celebrate the superstar center and underscore the effort to bring her home.
In the arena where Griner typically energizes the Phoenix crowd with a big play or powerful dunk, instead “Bring Brittney home” chants echoed throughout the mostly empty Footprint Center. Orange “We are BG” pins and black T-shirts mirroring the “BG 42” logo on every team’s court were worn by many, from fans to Phoenix Suns forward Torrey Craig.
Griner has been detained in a Russian prison on drug smuggling charges since Feb. 17 after authorities said they found vape cartridges and hashish oil in her luggage at an airport outside of Moscow. In May, the U.S. government publicly declared Griner was being wrongfully detained and will work to bring her home. On Thursday, she pleaded guilty to bringing hashish oil to Russia in the second hearing of her trial, which likely could result in a conviction based on Russian acquittal rates. Griner played seven offseasons with UMMC Ekaterinburg to supplement her WNBA income.
For almost five months she’s been away from her home and family, unable to speak directly to her wife or any other loved ones. In a recent letter to President Joe Biden she wrote, “I'm terrified I might be here forever.”
And yet, she’s still the same Brittney Griner those close to her describe as authentically and unapologetically herself. In a letter to friend and Mercury president Vince Kozar, it was something glaring that she was still herself.
“I can just tell when it’s BG. If it had been typed and not in her handwriting, I would have still known it was BG,” Kozar says. “You hold on to those things to remind you that she’s gonna be O.K.”
She’s still the same teammate who rode Lime e-scooters all through streets and parking garages in downtown Indiana on a road trip with Turner.
She’s still the same community leader who helped people experiencing homelessness, as described in a video tribute letter how she forever affected the life of a fan after giving her an autograph, a pair of shoes and an extra one for her brother. The letter noted, “You being you is good enough.” That line lit up Cherelle’s face with a smile while she also wiped away tears watching the jumbotron above.
She’s still the same friend that marched alongside Stanton at a Pride parade, scooping up the representative’s son placing him onto her shoulders allowing him to tower way above the crowd atop her 6'8" frame.
“She’s really a uniquely special person, and that’s why this community loves her so much,” Stanton says.
From his role as mayor of Phoenix to congressman, Stanton watched Griner throughout her entire career—from her rookie introductory press conference in 2013 to becoming a WNBA champion and two-time Olympic gold medalist.
He recently introduced a resolution that demands Griner’s immediate release, which passed in the U.S. House of Representatives. It also backs any efforts of the Biden Administration to bring her home with uncommon bipartisan support, according to Stanton.
Throughout the night, the speakers called on the president to bring her home. The rally commenced shortly after it was reported that Biden spoke directly to Griner’s wife for the first time and will respond to the WNBA star’s letter.
“Just getting the attention of the Biden Administration, that has taken a little bit of time, and I think the linchpin in that was the letter that BG herself wrote,” Mercury coach Vanessa Nygaard says.
Nygaard didn’t get the chance to know Griner much—the first-year head coach was hired less than a month before the star player’s detainment. Along with leading a team with a Brittney Griner–sized hole in the locker room, she’s also taken the lead to be Griner’s advocate, speaking to the media daily.
This is how Griner’s family and teammates help. There’s no rescue mission they can conjure, no magic spell to cast. Just saying her name and embodying her spirit.
After 20 weeks of no contact with her wife, Cherelle no longer feels hurt. It’s deeper than that—she’s immensely frustrated. In those moments of hopelessness, she’s turned to a mentality her wife’s exemplified on the court.
“I remember asking her once: ‘How do you play when you’re hurting and exhausted like that?’ She told me. ‘Oh, that me? That me just goes no matter what or how I feel. I get the job done,’” Cherelle said. “I've adapted her mindset in my efforts to get her home.”
Cherelle ended her emotional speech vocalizing “We are BG,” mirroring the phrase plastered around the arena. While they are all BG, for now, Brittney is still BG too.