WNBA to honour Brittney Griner with league-wide floor decals

The WNBA will honour Phoenix's Brittney Griner with a floor decal and allow the Mercury to pay her without it counting against the team’s cap.

FILE PHOTO: Brittney Griner.   -  GETTY IMAGES VIA AFP

The WNBA will honour Phoenix's Brittney Griner with a floor decal and allow the Mercury to pay her without it counting against the team’s cap, the league announced on Tuesday.

The All-Star center remains in Russia after being detained following her arrival at a Moscow airport on Feb. 17. Russian authorities said a search of her luggage revealed vape cartridges that allegedly contained oil derived from cannabis, which could carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison. She has a hearing set for May 19.

The decal will feature Griner’s initials “BG” as well as her No. 42. All 12 teams will have the decal on their home courts starting with the season opener Friday night. The Mercury opens its season at home that night against the Las Vegas Aces.

“As we begin the 2022 season, we are keeping Brittney at the forefront of what we do through the game of basketball and in the community,” said WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert. "We continue to work on bringing Brittney home and are appreciative of the support the community has shown BG and her family during this extraordinarily challenging time.”

READ: NBA Playoffs: Suns eclipses Doncic heroics, Heat scorches Sixers

The league also approved giving the Mercury both roster and salary cap relief so that it can carry a replacement player until Griner returns home. Griner will be paid her full salary of nearly $228,000.

Engelbert announced at the WNBA Draft there would be a league-wide charity initiative spearheaded by the Mercury to support Griner’s philanthropic project, called BG’s Heart and Sole Shoe Drive, which helps the homeless.

“In conjunction with the league, the other 11 teams, and those closest to BG, we will work to keep her top-of-mind as we tip the 2022 season,” said Mercury Executive Vice President and GM Jim Pitman. “While we await her return, our main concern remains for her safety and well-being. Our fans will miss her impact on the court and in our community, and this gesture of including her initials on every court and our BG’s Heart and Sole Shoe Drive activation in every market are for them and for her.”

Griner had one of her best seasons last year — the league's second-leading scorer and sixth in rebounds. She helped the Mercury reach the WNBA Finals, where it lost to the Chicago Sky.

US officials: Griner now considered wrongfully detained

Later in the day, two US Officials said that the Biden administration has determined that Griner is being wrongfully detained in Russia, meaning the United States will more aggressively work to secure her release even as the legal case against her plays out.

Since her detention, U.S. officials had stopped short of classifying the player as wrongfully detained and said instead that their focus was on ensuring that she had access in jail to American consular affairs officials.

Now, though, U.S. officials have shifted supervision of her case to a State Department office focused on negotiating for the release of hostages and other Americans deemed wrongfully detained.

“Brittney has been detained for 75 days and our expectation is that the White House do whatever is necessary to bring her home,” said Griner’s agent, Lindsay Kagawa Colas.

It was unclear what prompted the shift, though President Joe Biden's administration had been under pressure from members of Congress and others to make Griner's release a priority. The U.S. last week secured the release of Marine veteran Trevor Reed as part of a prisoner swap that also resulted in a convicted Russian drug trafficker being freed from prison in the U.S.

Besides Griner, another American regarded as unjustly detained in Russia is Paul Whelan, a corporate security executive from Michigan who was arrested in December 2018 while visiting for a friend's wedding and was later sentenced to 16 years in prison on espionage-related charges his family says are bogus.

ESPN first reported the classification in Griner's case. Two U.S. officials confirmed it on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss it by name.

For more updates, follow Sportstar on :