The USA players honored their friend and teammate by choosing not to wear their No. 15 jersey. Traditionally, Team USA wears the numbers four through 15, but instead remembers a player who has played such a big role in the national team since her first engagement in 2013.
“We think of her every day and we will honor her,” US head coach Cheryl Reeve told ESPN. “Nobody will wear 15. So just finding ways to continue to make sure she knows she’s being thought of and our players are thinking of her on a daily basis.”
Griner was central to the US team’s dominance in the sport. The WNBA No. 1 draft pick in 2013 helped the US win two Olympic gold medals and two World Championship gold medals.
“She’s a big part of our sisterhood,” said Griner’s Olympic teammate Jewell Lloyd. “Meeting you over the past few years has been great. She was just great for me and my family. And it’s just heartbreaking to know that she’s still over there and not here.”
Griner was arrested in February for carrying vape cartridges containing cannabis oil in her luggage and pleaded guilty to drug offenses, saying she accidentally packed the drugs in a hurry. Her legal team in Russia has appealed the nine-year sentence.
Griner’s teammates and other WNBA players have also shown solidarity with the eight-time All-Star by boycotting playing in Russia during the offseason.
Many WNBA players supplement their off-season salaries by signing with European teams, including Russian teams, who reportedly pay more than $1 million per season — much more money than players would make if they did would stay in the US.
But this winter, players are refusing to sign with Russian teams, opting instead to play for other clubs across Europe.
Breanna Stewart, who has played with Griner for both the national team and the same Russian club side, Yekaterinburg, admitted it wasn’t an easy decision.
“Honestly, my time in Russia was wonderful, but especially since BG is still being unjustly detained there, no one will go there until she gets home,” said the Seattle Storm forward. “I think we’re going to continue to speak up, keep reinforcing her name and putting as much pressure on the White House as we can.”
“It was amazing that Cherelle was able to meet with President Biden and hopefully that means things continue to move forward to bring her home.
“But I think the best way to represent and honor them is to win the gold medal.”