NBA stars raise awareness about Brittney Griner’s wrongful detention in Russia

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(NEW YORK) — As the Boston Celtics and Golden State Warriors face off in the 2022 NBA Finals, players are calling attention to the case of Brittney Griner, the WNBA star who has been detained in Russia for more than three months.

“She needs to be home, she needs to be safe, she needs to be with her family,” Warriors point guard Steph Curry told ESPN on Tuesday.

“Right now it’s just about getting her home and everybody just joining that effort … to make sure she’s talked about and all hands are on deck and all resources are thrown at getting her home as soon as possible,” he added.

Some have argued that if NBA stars like Curry or Lebron James were wrongfully detained in a foreign country, more would be done to get them back home.

“There’s something to that,” Curry said when asked about how Griner has been treated.

“It is an unfortunate situation and it is a tragedy,” he said.

The Boston Celtics raised awareness about Griner’s case on the court this week by wearing “We Are BG” T-shirts — a slogan that has become a rallying cry in the WNBA and beyond this season to show support for the Phoenix Mercury star.

“As a collective we wanted to come out and show our support for Brittney Griner,” Celtics star Jaylen Brown said, according to ESPN. “She’s been over there for an extended amount of time, and we feel like enough is enough.”

Celtics forward Jayson Tatum said that he got to spend time with Griner when they competed in the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics, which took place last year due to COVID-19 delays.

“It’s extremely tough seeing what she’s going through,” Tatum said earlier this week, according to ESPN. “I know everybody sees and feels that, and obviously we’re all together in support trying to bring her back to her family and things like that. Yeah, wearing those shirts today in support of her.”

Griner, a WNBA superstar, has been detained in a Russian prison for more than 110 days. She was visiting Russia in February to play basketball during the off-season when she was arrested at Sheremetyevo International Airport near Moscow for allegedly having vape cartridges in her luggage that contained hashish oil — an illegal substance in Russia.

She was charged with “large-scale transportation of drugs” and could face up to 10 years in prison, according to The New York Times.

The U.S. government classified Griner’s case on May 3 as “wrongfully detained” in Russia, which means that the U.S. would work to negotiate her release. The State Department did not immediately return ABC News’ request for comment on Griner.

Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, told “GMA” co-anchor Robin Robertslast month that the support her wife has received from the league has brought the WNBA star “comfort” amid her detention.

The WNBA, which kicked off its 2022 season on May 6, is honoring Griner with a floor decal bearing her initials and jersey number (42) on the sideline of all 12 WNBA teams.

“Things like that matter, like, it has her hopeful,” Cherelle Griner told Roberts. “It lets her know she’s not forgotten.”

“Those small moments, I know, give her some type of hope,” she added.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began one week after Griner was detained on Feb. 17. Some officials are concerned that Americans jailed in Russia could be used as leverage in the ongoing conflict.

Cherelle Griner said that she would like to speak with President Joe Biden.

“I just keep hearing that, you know, he has the power. She’s a political pawn,” she said. “So if they’re holding her because they want you to do something, then I want you to do it.”

State Department spokesperson Ned Price said last month that a U.S. consular officer was able to meet with Griner on May 19.

Price said the officer “found her continuing to do as well as could be expected under these exceedingly challenging circumstances.”

“But again, our message is a clear and simple one — we continue to insist that Russia allow consistent and timely consular access to all U.S. citizen detainees,” he added. “One-off visits are not sufficient, and we will continue to call on Moscow to uphold its commitments under the Vienna Convention for consistent and timely access, as well.”

Calls to free Brittney Griner escalated following the release of U.S. Marine veteran Trevor Reed in April, who was freed from a Russian prison as part of a prisoner exchange. Former Marine Paul Whelan has also been detained in Russia since 2019.

Reed called for Griner and Whelan’s freedom at a rally on Monday in Griner’s hometown of Houston.

“There is no justice in Russia,” Reed said. “Brittney and Paul will not receive justice in Russia. They’re not going to receive a fair trial, they will not receive a fair investigation. They will be there as hostages until the United States gets them out.”

Griner’s trip to Russia has underscored the issue of pay inequality in professional basketball.

Many WNBA players have traveled around the world to play in the off-season because they don’t make enough money during the season — an issue that is not as prevalent for NBA players who are paid more. The top WNBA salary is $228K, whereas star NBA players can make at least $1 million a year.

ABC News’ Conor Finnegan, Courtney Condron and Kelly McCarthy contributed to this report.

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