“We’re Not the Same Without Her”: WNBA Stars Show Solidarity for Brittney Griner at All-Star Weekend

Sue Bird, Skylar Diggins-Smith, Nneka Ogwumike and more talk to GQ about Griner’s situation, and the void her absence creates in the league.

Kelsey Plum 10 Sylvia Fowles 34 Candace Parker 3 A'ja Wilson 22 and Sabrina Ionescu 20 during the 2022 ATT WNBA AllStar...

Kelsey Plum #10, Sylvia Fowles #34, Candace Parker #3, A’ja Wilson #22 and Sabrina Ionescu #20 during the 2022 AT&T WNBA All-Star Game at the Wintrust Arena on July 10, 2022 in Chicago, Illinois.Courtesy of Stacy Revere via Getty Images

One hundred and forty four: That’s both the number of women in the WNBA and the number of days that the league’s superstar Brittney Griner has been wrongfully detained in Russia at the time of this writing. This haunting coincidence weighed heavily over the all-star celebration in Chicago last weekend, but also gave special symbolism as the players displayed unity in the way they showed support and empathy toward Griner in her absence.

The eight-time WNBA all-star and champion was named an honorary starter for Sunday’s game, and her name was inescapable over the weekend: whether on the players’ warm-up t-shirts, fan posters, and the lips of her fellow all-stars. “For all of us in the WNBA, all we want is for BG to be home and to be safe where she belongs,” Sue Bird, who made her final all-star appearance, tells GQ. “This is the world of sports, yes, but BG is an American. We’re all Americans and so we need to represent her in a way that puts her name front of mind at all times.”

In a powerful display of solidarity during Sunday’s game, every single all-star emerged from the locker room after halftime wearing Griner’s #42 jersey (one team in orange, the other in black). It was the ultimate expression of the WNBA players’ rallying cry throughout the season: “We are BG.” For Las Vegas Aces star A’ja Wilson, the phrase “means a lot because she’s our sister. She’s one of us and we’re not whole without her.”

As many of her fellow WNBA teammates do during the off-season to supplement their WNBA salaries, Brittney Griner was travelling to Russia to play overseas when she was arrested at the Moscow international airport after marijuana vape cartridges were found in her luggage. “It’s hard to believe. A lot of us are over there… playing overseas and for one of our own to be stuck over there, it’s sad,” says Connecticut Sun forward Alyssa Thomas. “This is someone who is one of us… just a player trying to make a living overseas,” says Bird, who played 10 seasons in Russia.

The two-time Olympic gold medalist, who pleaded guilty to the drug charges last week, said that she had “no intent” to “break the law.” Sue Bird has a reminder for those who are quick to scrutinize the mistake that Griner made: “She didn’t do anything terrible enough to be stuck in a Russian jail and being used as a political pawn. I think people need to separate in that way and understand this is just a person who is in a terrible position. We just want her back home.”

Players association president Nneka Ogwumike says that right now, it’s all about “understanding that she’s one of us” and “getting people to get to know who she is as a person and understand her situation.” If you’ve ever seen the six-foot-nine-inch Brittney Griner play basketball, you know that she’s dominant, but off the court? “BG’s spirit is crazy. Her energy is great,” says Wilson. “She makes you laugh, she dances, she’s funny, she’s just a down to earth, chill person. Caring. I don’t think a lot of people know that. BG is one of one. She’s a gem.”

 Skylar Diggins-Smith arrives at the 2022 AT&T WNBA All-Star Game on July 10, 2022 at Wintrust Arena in Chicago, Illinois.Courtesy of Kena Krutsinger via Getty Images

Griner’s Phoenix Mercury teammate Skylar Diggins-Smith, who arrived at Wintrust Arena in a hoodie featuring a large portrait of Brittney, attests to her spirit. “Nobody has anything bad to say in the W about BG. She’s cool with everybody,” said the six-time All Star. “Just as tall as she is, her spirit is just as big. I came to Phoenix to play with BG.” For Diggins-Smith, as well as many other WNBA players, Brittney is more than just a basketball player. “BG is my friend. She’s more than my teammate. She’s my family. We’re not the same without her.”

Taking action in unison is nothing new for the women of the WNBA, who cover the spectrum of race and ethnicity, sexual orientation, and gender identity. “There is so much intersection in our league. That’s where we find a lot of commonality and common ground,” says Ogwumike. “As players in the W, we are just naturally born into the resistance… into the fight.” She adds that getting the players to engage “doesn’t take a lot of effort because we are just a community of women that want to have each other’s back, so that’s kind of the beauty of it all. It’s not like pulling teeth.” For fifteen-year veteran Slyvia Fowles, who is retiring at the end of this season, that togetherness is what makes the WNBA special. “There’s no loners. We understand that when we put our mind together and we work together amazing things happen. I’m happy to have 144 sisters.”

Cherelle Griner, Brittney’s wife, who was seated courtside by the team bench during Sunday’s game, expressed her appreciation for all the support. “I’m just so grateful that everyone in this arena is actually still remembering my wife even without her being here,” she said in an interview with ESPN. “I truly believe that the next step in this journey is to… make sure that [the Biden administration has] our support in doing whatever is necessary to bring her back home.”

While Griner’s next court date is July 14th, the timeline for her return home remains unclear. “I think we’re not going to be complete until she’s back stateside,” says Candace Parker.

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