That OTHER midsummer classic, the WNBA All-Star Game, is being held today in Chicago. Emulating the format that their big brother has embraced, the glorified choose up sides exhibition will feature two teams captained by two rising stars,A’ja Wilson of the Las Vegas Aces and Breanna Stewart of the Seattle Storm. There will be a modest crowd for a summer afternoon in the Windy City, completely unlike the madness and magnitude of the NBA All-Star Game.
And besides, those team names are really only placeholders for the real star of the league. She won’t be able to attend. She’s currently in a Russian prison.
Brittney Griner pleaded guilty earlier this week to drug possession charges. She had been detained in February at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport after vape canisters with cannabis oil allegedly were found in her luggage. She faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted of large-scale transportation of drugs. Russian news reports quoted Griner as saying through an interpreter at the court hearing that she had acted unintentionally because she was packing in haste.
And she’s been incarcerated ever since that fateful day. Detached from her loving wife and family. Detached from the league she dominated and defined. And for all intents and purposes ignored by an administration that should be a lot more invested in her fate than they have demonstrated.
Griner is female, black and outwardly gay, three adjectives that define a great deal of the WNBA. Depending upon which version of truth you want to believe, anywhere between one-third to 98% of the league’s players are lesbians. More accurate are the statistics that roughly 70% of them are black and, obviously, 100% of them are female.
For many politicans these days, those are adjectives that they’d rather be relegated to backroom conversation. But as the All-Star weekend approached, and the fate that awaits Griner became grimmer, more and more of her peers and friends spoke out. As Phoenix Mercury coach Vanessa Nygaard, Griner’s boss when she’s a free woman, lamented publicly earlier this week, “if it was LeBron James who had been detained in Russia, he’d be free and home already”.
With mounting pressure, including as a heartfelt direct plea to President Biden from Griner’s wife Cherelle, Griner’s plight is finally becoming front and center, at least cosmetically, Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris spoke to Cherelle this week and assured her that they are on the case. And with that they dispatched noted negotiator Bill Richardson to Moscow to try and talk sense into Russians.
Well, gee wiilikers. How nice for you.
We happen to have the alleged second most powerful person in the free world in office who checks off at least two of the tick marks of the WNBA’s demographic. Female and black. As for lesbian, just ask anyone who knew Kamala Harris during her aspirational days on Willie Brown’s staff for exactly what her gender preference of sexual partner is.
This would be an ideal situation for Harris to step into a role as international spokesperson and comrade in arms to get her sorry ass over to Russia and take a forceful stand. But nooooo, she’s far too busy invoking word salads and disingenous thoughts and prayers in suburban Chicago to the Highland Park shooting victims’ families.
Now perhaps Mr. Richardson will figure out a path to freedom at some point. He is auspiced and experienced. But for Harris to miss this opportunity to serve as an inspiration and a direct connection from the executive branch of government to the Griners is perhaps one of the more egregiously ignorant lack of actions in a tenure that has been defined by arrogance, distance and ineffictiveness.
So yes a basketball game featuring a cast that is primarily black and female will be played in another Chicago suburb today, one that a black and female leader will not be visiting. Nor will she be on the front line where she could at least pretend she cares enough to bring back the game’s real leader. Whether one is rooting for Team Wilson or Team Stewart, everyone will be on Team Griner today.
I’m willing to bet far fewer will be on Team Harris.