Brittney Griner spent her 32nd birthday in a Russian prison, awaiting an appeal against her nine-year drug possession sentence scheduled for next week.
The WNBA star has been particularly down recently, according to her lawyers. They were with her for part of her birthday on Tuesday.
Maria Blagovolina, a partner at Rybalkin, Gortsunyan, Dyakin, said it was not a celebration, but that Griner’s lawyers had conveyed good wishes from family and friends.
“She smiled, it was really nice to see her smile,” Blagovolina wrote in an email to the Associated Press.
Griner later issued a statement through her agent, Lindsay Kagawa Colas.
“Thank you all for fighting so hard to bring me home. Any support and love definitely helps me,” Griner said.
Griner’s appeal hearing is scheduled for October 25. Although an appeal is unlikely to overturn her conviction, her lawyers hope it could reduce her sentence.
“We hope that the sentence will be reduced,” said Blagovolina.
Griner was convicted on August 4 in an unusually swift verdict and received a longer sentence than most Russians for similar crimes. The 6-foot-9 center, who played professionally in Russia during the WNBA offseason, was taken into custody on Feb. 17, a week before Russia invaded Ukraine.
Police said they found vape canisters containing cannabis oil in Griner’s luggage at Sheremetyevo Airport in Moscow. Her lawyers said she was prescribed cannabis for pain, and Griner said she inadvertently packed it and had no criminal intent.
Griner is also awaiting a potential prisoner swap between Russia and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken took the unusual step of publicly revealing in July that Washington had made a “significant proposal” to bring Griner home, along with Paul Whelan, an American serving a 16-year sentence in Russia for espionage.
Blinken did not elaborate, but the AP and other news organizations are reporting that Washington has offered to trade Griner and Whelan for Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer serving a 25-year sentence in the U.S. once nicknamed the “dealer of death.”
The White House said it had not yet received a productive response from Russia to the offer.
Her friends and family are trying to keep Griner’s name in the forefront of people’s minds amid delicate negotiations between the US and Russia that appear to be at a standstill.
“I’m praying for her mental health and sanity, and for us to do everything we can to help keep her name out there,” said South Carolina coach Dawn Staley, who coached Griner at last year’s Tokyo Olympics. “To take her home. I hope it will be sooner rather than later. She is one of our own in an incredible situation, it will take positive synergy, prayers and some powerful people making deals to bring her home.”
Golden State guard Stephen Curry took time out of the Warriors’ championship ring ceremony Tuesday night to deliver an impassioned plea in support of Griner.
“We want to continue to use our platform and opportunity to highlight a special member of the basketball community.” Today is Brittney Griner’s birthday, she’s 32 years old,” Curry told the crowd before the defending NBA champions beat the Los Angeles Lakers. “We want to continue to make her name known and pray… it’s been 243 days since she was illegally imprisoned in Russia. We hope she comes home soon, that everyone does their part to bring her home.”
The U.S. women’s national team won its fourth straight World Cup title earlier this month, and captain Breanna Stewart said the medal was dedicated to Griner, who would have been on the team had she not been in prison.
Griner was honored to hear this from her lawyers.
More AP coverage on Griner: https://apnews.com/hub/brittney-griner