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The Phoenix Mercury start the 2022 WNBA season in a few weeks and, while the game-planning will be centered around the Las Vegas Aces, Brittney Griner’s detention in Russia will weigh heavily on the players’ minds.
Sophie Cunningham, who along with Griner helped the Mercury get to the WNBA Finals last season, was among those who talked about the star center being absent from the team.
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“We’ve just got to keep praying for her,” Cunningham said Monday. “We hope she’s well. That’s all we know, you guys know as much as we do. No one wants to be in her situation. We miss her like crazy.”
Cunningham emphasized she was worried for Griner as a human being, not about how her absence will affect the team going forward.
“It’s BG, there’s no one like her in the whole world. We definitely miss her, but it’s not even about basketball anymore. We just want her to be well as a human being. She has a big stage, a lot of people know her, so we want her to be on the court,” she added. “Everyone who loves her just wants her to be home safe.”
“BG” is the nickname given to Griner by her teammates and those around the WNBA.
Griner was arrested in February after Russian officials said a search of her luggage revealed vape cartridges containing oil derived from cannabis.
Griner could face up to a decade in prison if she’s convicted.
BRITTNEY GRINER ARREST IN RUSSIA: STATE DEPARTMENT SAYS WNBA STAR ‘DOING AS WELL AS CAN BE EXPECTED’
“I definitely wake up in the middle of the night sometimes, worrying about BG,” first-year Mercury coach Vanessa Nygaard said.
Players also have been worried about saying the wrong thing and escalating the situation even further.
“I spent 10 years there, so I know the way things work,” Diana Taurasi said. “It’s delicate.”
Griner’s arrest also sparked calls for a change in salaries to keep players from leaving the country during the winter months to play basketball overseas.
A supermax salary in the WNBA could earn a player just over $221,000 for the regular season. Players have the option to stay in the U.S. and do other media work in the offseason, but some choose to go to other countries, like Russia, where they could earn around $1 million or more.
Nygard hoped the financial discrepancies would come to an end.
“I see people all the time, they’re like ‘Man, I can’t believe they don’t pay those WNBA players. I can’t believe they’re underpaid.’ Well, when was the last time you bought season tickets? When is the last time you bought gear for WNBA?” Nygaard said.
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“If people seriously care about keeping our athletes over here and making sure female athletes are paid at a higher rate, then they need to put their dollars behind our league. Support us.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.