Former Russian Olympian and current Las Vegas Aces head coach Becky Hammon has called on the Kremlin to allow Brittney Griner safe passage back to the United States.
The eight-time WNBA All-Star was sentenced to nine years in a Russian penal colony Thursday after being convicted of drug possession and smuggling.
In addition to time behind bars, Griner was also fined 1 million rubles, which equates to approximately $16,700.
‘It’s something that obviously hits super close to home for me and so I just ask the Russian government to do the right thing,’ Hammon told Reuters on Tuesday.
Griner has been detained in Russia since arriving at Moscow Airport on February 17, 2022
‘It’s never too late to do the right thing. We’re asking for leniency. We’re asking for grace. And we’re asking to bring home BG.’
Hammon was born and raised in the United States, though chose to represent Russia at the 2008 Olympics after failing to receive adequate ‘opportunity’ in the States.
Much to the ire of many, Hammon donned the red, white and blue of Russia in Beijing — and later London — accepting an offer to play for their national team after the US failed to, in her words, give Hammon a ‘chance’.
In the leadup to the 2008 Olympics, USA Basketball released the initial list of 23 prospective players for Beijing’s Olympics, of which Hammon was not a part of.
Later, it was extended to 30 players, with Hammon invited, though things were too far gone for her.
‘I’ve never even played in an FIBA sanctioned event,’ Hammon said in 2008. ‘They had a long time to give me the opportunity.’
‘I know how I feel about my country. I love what America stands for and that we’re the free world. But freedom has never been free. People have paid for it.’
Hammon also told ESPN in 2008, the color of her uniform didn’t define her nationalist pride.
‘The jersey that I wear has never made me who I was. It has nothing to do with what’s written on my heart.’
Becky Hammon became a naturalized citizen of Russia in 2007 despite zero ancestral links
Russia confirmed Friday, for the first time, that it is in talks to swap Brittney Griner for Viktor Bout, the notorious ‘Merchant of Death’ arms dealer who has been imprisoned in the US since 2010.
Speaking during a visit to Cambodia on Friday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said: ‘We are ready to discuss this topic, but within the framework of the channel that was agreed upon by presidents Putin and Biden.’
He however warned that if US officials speak about the deal in the press – as they did before Griner’s sentencing – it could jeopardize the swap.
‘If the Americans decide to once again resort to public diplomacy, that is their business and I would even say that it is their problem.’
President Biden failed to secure a deal before Griner was found guilty and sentenced, with one source close to negotiations suggesting that has lost the US significant leverage.
Griner has received an outpouring of support for her sporting cohort and Hollywood’s elite
‘The US position has weakened now. They showed their hand and now their bargaining position has weakened,’ the source said.
Many republicans have been critical of the US’ handling of Griner’s situation including former President, Donald Trump.
The 45th President last week savaged Biden’s decision to potentially trade Bout in exchange for Griner.
Fans around the country have shown their support for Griner, equally hoping she will return
‘One of the biggest arms dealers in the world,’ Trump said. ‘Killed many people, many Americans, and he’s going to get a free card and we’re going to get her out.
‘She knew… you don’t go in there loaded up with drugs. She admitted it. It certainly doesn’t seem like a very good trade.
‘He is one of the worst in the world and he is going to be given his freedom because a potentially spoiled person goes into Russia loaded up with drugs.’
WNBA players across the nation linked arms in tribute to Griner, holding a 42-second moment of silence Thursday night.