EXCLUSIVE- Coach Hammon, once a star in Russia, urges Putin to release Brittney Griner

A top American women’s professional basketball coach who once represented Russia at the Olympics has called on Russian President Vladimir Putin to “do the right thing” and quickly release American star Brittney Griner https:// www.Reuters.com/world/us/brittney-griner-appears-in-russian-court-after-we-make-an-exchange-offer-2022-08-02.

Las Vegas Aces head coach Becky Hammon, who as a player spent years in Russia and won Olympic bronze for her adopted country, said it was heartbreaking to see another member of the close-knit women’s basketball community locked down for nearly six months. Washington claims Griner is wrongfully detained in Russia https://www.Reuters.com/lifestyle/sports/us-basketball-star-griner-set-testify-russian-trial-2022-07-27. “This is something that obviously affects me very close to home and so I just ask the Russian government to do the right thing. It’s never too late to do the right thing,” Hammon said. to Reuters in an interview on Tuesday, “We’re asking for clemency. We’re asking for pardon. And we’re asking to bring BG home.”

Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist and WNBA Phoenix Mercury center, is set to return to a Russian court on Thursday for oral arguments in her trial https://www.Reuters.com/world/us/brittney-griner -appears -russian-court-after-us-made-exchange-offer-2022-08-02. She faces up to 10 years in prison for drug trafficking after she was detained at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport on February 17 with vaping cartridges containing cannabis oil in her luggage. Her arrest on her way to her Russian team during the U.S. offseason came days before Russia launched its full-scale invasion https://www.Reuters.com/world/europe/ukraine-russia- what-you-need-know-right-now-2022-07-03 of Ukraine, plunging relations between Moscow and Washington to their lowest point in decades and propelling Griner to the center of a geopolitical tussle .

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said last week the US had made a ‘substantial offer’ to Russia to release Griner and former Marine Paul Whelan, who the US also considers to be wrongfully detained https://www.Reuters.com/world/who-are-americans-held-captive-abroad-2022-07-28 in Russia. A source said Washington was ready to trade convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout 2022-08-01, known as the “Dealer of Death”. Moscow said no deal has yet been reached and a swap is unlikely to take place before Griner’s trial verdict, but it could happen in the coming days.

‘ONE OF THE GREATEST’ Six-time WNBA All-Star Hammon played offseason for multiple Russian teams, a common move for WNBA players looking to supplement lower incomes than their male counterparts . She became a naturalized citizen and won an Olympic bronze medal for Russia in 2008 and competed again in 2012, but said her Russian citizenship had since expired.

Hammon – who would have been the first WNBA coach to be paid more than $1 million – described Griner as “one of the greatest players to ever play”, and said it was possible the holding a male athlete at the same level would have elicited a greater response. . “It’s hard to imagine, though, that if it was, you know, LeBron James, that he would still be sitting there in jail,” Hammon said. “It’s hard not to let your mind go there.”

Hammon said she has always supported the campaign to free Griner, but is speaking out as Griner’s trial draws to a close and Russia has the option of sending her home. Hammon said that as an athlete she was not political, but called on Putin and Russian authorities to show “mercy” and let Griner return to his wife in the United States.

“If it was your daughter or your sister or your wife or whoever it was, you can imagine the agony you went through while waiting,” she said. “Enough is enough.” She also warned that Russian athletes would face the repercussions of detaining a top athlete traveling to compete.

“I think Mr. Putin is a pretty big sports fan – jeopardizing all these athletes, I mean, that would be really unfortunate,” Hammon said. Russian sports teams and athletes have been barred from some international events following the invasion of Ukraine, and Olympic officials have said Russia could be barred from the 2024 Games in Paris. Russia did not face sporting sanctions for Griner’s detention.

“If (Griner) were to serve a sentence (in prison), I think there would be bad implications internationally on the sports world,” Hammon said. “There are certain ways to put pressure on Russia. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.

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Christy J. Olson