Phoenix Mercury star Brittney Griner was at the forefront of everyone’s mind as the WNBA All-Star game tipped off in Chicago on Sunday.
Griner was named an honorary All-Star player this year and every effort was made to spread awareness of her situation.
It comes after the two-time US Olympic basketball gold medalist pleaded guilty to drug charges at a Russian court near Moscow on Thursday but the US State Department says she is wrongfully detained.
She now faces up to 10 years in prison under the charge.
Before the game, Griner’s name was announced along with a graphic of her while her initials were displayed courtside.
Players also emerged in the second half with jerseys donning Griner’s name and number on the back as Team Wilson defeated Team Stewart 134-112.
“We are the most unified league in the world honestly and wearing the jerseys was a statement to show that we are BG [Brittney Griner],” A’ja Wilson told reporters after the match.
“She’s our sister and, at the end of the day, we are going to do whatever we can to amplify the platform that we have to make sure that everyone is doing what they need to do to make sure that 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’m not thinking about Brittney Griner.
“So wearing her jersey and letting the world know we are not whole without her, I think that’s a statement in itself.”
Even before play got underway, 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 we’re thinking of Brittney Griner at this time,” she said.
“She remains a huge priority for us, continues to have our full support, fully focused on getting her home safely and as soon as possible.”
Griner’s wife, Cherelle, was in attendance at the All-Star Game and said it was “always going to be difficult being around basketball without my wife being present.”
“I use these moments as just gratitude for her legacy and impact, you know, even in her absence you can’t not say Brittney Griner,” Cherelle told ESPN.
“So I’m just so grateful that everybody in this arena is actually still remembering my wife even without her being here.”
Brittney, in a handwritten letter to President Joe Biden, said she fears she will be detained in Russia indefinitely and pleaded with the President not to forget about her and other American detainees.
“What I do know is President Biden and his administration took the time to actually write BG back, and she’s so grateful for that,” Cherelle added when asked about the letter.
“I truly believe the next step in this journey is actually to support our administration in making sure that they have our support to do whatever is necessary to bring her back home.”