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    Thursday, August 11, 2022

    Sun, Mercury unite prior to tip-off in support of Griner

    Connecticut Sun and Phoenix Mercury players link arms for 42 seconds in honor of Mercury center Brittney Griner before Thursday night’s WNBA game at Mohegan Sun Arena. Griner was sentenced Thursday to nine years in a Russian jail for drug-smuggling. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
    Players with the Connecticut Sun and Phoenix Mercury embrace following a moment of solidarity for Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner before Thursday night’s WNBA game at Mohegan Sun Arena. Griner was sentenced Thursday to nine years in a Russian jail for drug-smuggling. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)

    Mohegan — Professional sports are an exclusive club.

    A rare few are fortunate to be admitted, but once the door opens, friendships, special bonds and mutual respect immediately develop.

    The WNBA is perhaps even tighter given that less than 150 women are rostered at any one time, so the news that Brittney Griner had been convicted Thursday of smuggling drugs into Russia and sentenced to nine years in jail reverberated across the league.

    Few in the league have known Griner longer than Odyssey Sims, her former Baylor teammate who signed with the Connecticut Sun on Wednesday.

    “Brittney is a very, very bright star,” Sims said prior to Thursday night’s game against the Phoenix Mercury, Griner’s team. “Very lovable. She was a good teammate. Her personality is through the roof. Very goofy. She has a unique personality, I’ll say that much. Very fun to be around ... loving.”

    “That’s my sister. I just want to bring her home.”

    Griner’s sentencing was felt heavily across Thursday’s game. The Sun’s DeWanna Bonner played six seasons with her in Phoenix. Jonquel Jones was Griner’s teammate on Russia’s UMMC Ekaterinburg — most WNBA players go overseas during the offseason to supplement their salaries which are nowhere near as lucrative as those in the four major professional sports in North America.

    Connecticut and Phoenix players stood in a circle at halfcourt before the game for what was called a “42 seconds of solidarity” — 42 is the number Griner has worn the entirety of her eight-year career, all with Phoenix.

    The Mohegan Sun Arena crowd stood in silence until some fans began chanting her name. Members of the Sun staff and game operations wore black t-shirts with “WE ARE BG” in orange lettering.

    Brianna Turner, one of Griner’s Mercury teammates, tweeted earlier in the day, “Thinking of BG and how much light she relentlessly brought to everyone around her. Even after sentencing is complete I hope (at)POTUS & (at)WhiteHouse will continue to do everything in their power to bring Brittney Griner & all other Americans detained abroad home.”

    First-year Phoenix head coach Vanessa Nygaard said, “It’s tough to focus on basketball, I think, for our whole team. Really emotional. It’s a lot. (We’re) just trying to support our players the best as possible, make sure that they feel that support. I know that we have a lot of support throughout the WNBA and all the community that supports women’s basketball, but it’s been a hard day for us.”

    Sun head coach Curt Miller got to know Griner through his work with USA Basketball. Griner has been a mainstay with the national team and Miller has been an assistant.

    “BG and I shared a flight out of a USA camp once,” Miller said. “We sat in a café in an airport together waiting for our flight out. It was the first time that I had an extended conversation with her.

    “You’re immediately touched by the person that she was. She was so present and wanted to know about me; wanted to have really thoughtful conversations. Her genuine-ness, you could tell that she was really present. (She) made a huge impact on me for that first extended interaction with her. You could tell how caring of a person that she is and why everybody speaks on what a tremendous friend she is.

    “(I’m) disappointed, you know. I feel so bad for her. As I explained to the staff, her day started like any other international travel day for her (when she was arrested in February). It’s changed her life forever. … (A) range of emotions today for the team and certainly our heart and thoughts are with Brittney.”

    n.griffen@theday.com

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