Griner is in Russia, where she has been detained since February after police said they found vaping cartridges containing cannabis oil in her luggage. The eight-time All-Star pleaded guilty Thursday to drug possession charges that could carry a sentence of up to 10 years in prison.
While advocating for Griner’s release, the WNBA also honored Sue Bird and Sylvia Fowles at the last All-Star Game for the two outgoing players. Fowles had the biggest highlight of the day, landing a steal and slamming a dunk for Team Wilson with 4:04 left in the first half.
Bird received a huge ovation when she left with 2:10 remaining and greeted the cheers with a wave.
Las Vegas aces guard Kelsey Plum was named MVP after scoring 30 points for Team Wilson in his first All-Star appearance. Sabrina Ionescu had 15 and Chicago Sky forward Candace Parker finished with 15 points and eight rebounds in her hometown.
Jonquel Jones, the reigning WNBA MVP who plays for the Connecticut Sun, had 29 points and 13 rebounds for Team Stewart.
Just before the second half, when the players wore Griner’s name and number 42 on the back of their shirts, Ionescu and Courtney Vandersloot hugged Cherelle Griner, Brittney’s wife.
“We’re thinking about Brittney Griner right now,” WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert said. “She remains a huge priority for us, continues to have our full support. Fully focused on getting her home safely and as soon as possible.
It was the first WNBA All-Star Game in Chicago, home of defending champion Sky.
The league has landed in the Windy City at perhaps its strongest position since it began play in 1997. Viewership is up, some major business partners have signed up and a surge of promising young stars as Wilson, Ionescu and Plum move into the foreground.
Engelbert announced teams in this year’s WNBA Finals will travel on charter flights, and the league is increasing its postseason bonus pools by nearly 50% to $500,000. Next season will be extended to 40 games, up from 36 this year, and Engelbert said the league has met with potential ownership groups for expansion teams.
“We continue to work very hard on transforming the business to improve the player experience,” Engelbert said.
Jay Cohen can be reached at https://twitter.com/jcohenap
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