June 28, 2022 - 3:20 pm
LOS ANGELES — Deep amid the tunnels beneath Crypto.com Arena, in the small room across from the weight facility that visiting teams use for news conferences, Aces All-Star A’ja Wilson was moved to tears.
“It was tough,” Wilson said. “I hated seeing it. It made my stomach turn.”
The question that triggered her response wasn’t about the Aces, who had just defeated the Los Angeles Sparks 79-73 on Monday night behind Wilson’s 25 points and 11 rebounds and Kelsey Plum’s 29 points.
Instead, Wilson was asked about a friend, fellow WNBA All-Star and two-time gold medalist Brittney Griner, who appeared at a preliminary hearing Monday for her trial in Russia. Griner was arrested Feb. 17 at a Moscow Airport, a week before Russia invaded Ukraine, for allegedly possessing vape cartridges containing cannabis oil.
“I pray, every day, that she comes home and she’s healthy,” said Wilson, whose team will play the second game of a four-game road trip Wednesday at Seattle.
Wilson can get emotional during news conferences. She will joke about Plum’s hesitance to pass, heap praise on shy teammates such as Jackie Young and take responsibility for performances that don’t live up to her high standards.
But Monday, Wilson exhibited a new level of vulnerability when asked about seeing a handcuffed Griner entering the hearing.
“It’s unacceptable,” Wilson said. “And to see her like that, I can’t even put it into words.”
Griner’s detention was extended for six months pending her trial, which will begin Friday. The U.S. government considers the Phoenix Mercury center wrongfully detained.
Emotions continued to creep into Wilson’s voice as she talked about Griner. She called her a sister and expressed her frustrations about the failed phone calls recently when Griner tried to reach her wife, Cherelle Griner, through the American embassy in Russia on the couple’s fourth anniversary. The State Department said a logistical error resulted in the call being missed.
Wilson’s main plea, however, was for people to recognize Griner’s value as a person, not just a basketball player.
“Anyone that knows BG knows her spirit is probably the best thing about her,” Wilson said. “Yes, she can put the ball in the hoop, but her spirit — I hate to see that stripped away from her.”
Who: Aces (14-4) at Seattle Storm (11-7)
When: 7 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Climate Pledge Arena, Seattle