NBA commissioner Adam Silver said Tuesday that he is working “side by side” with WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert to try to bring Brittney Griner home.
Silver, speaking to ESPN’s Malika Andrews in a televised interview from Chicago prior to the NBA draft lottery, said his league was following the advice of experts when it did not take an aggressive approach during the early stages of Griner’s detention in Russia.
“We’ve been in touch with the White House, the State Department, hostage negotiators, every level of government and also through the private sector as well,” Silver said. “Our No. 1 priority is her health and safety and making sure she gets out of Russia.”
The State Department also said Tuesday that it is still pushing to have regular contact with the Phoenix Mercury star.
A consular official was able to meet with Griner last week, when her pretrial detention in Russia was extended for one month. Griner has been detained – wrongfully, US officials have said – since February, after vape cartridges containing oil derived from cannabis were allegedly found in her luggage at an airport in Moscow.
“That consular official came away with the impression that Brittney Griner is doing as well as might be expected under conditions that can only be described as exceedingly difficult,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said in Washington. “But sporadic contact is not satisfactory. It also may not be consistent with the Vienna Convention to which Russia has subscribed.”
The 31-year-old Griner – a two-time Olympic gold medalist for the US – faces drug smuggling charges that carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison. The Biden administration says Griner is being wrongfully detained. The WNBA and US officials have worked towards her release, without visible progress.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken talked with Griner’s wife in recent days, Price said.
“He conveyed once again the priority we attach to seeking the release of all Americans around the world, including Brittney Griner in the case of Russia, Paul Whelan in the case of Russia, those Americans whom we consider to be wrongfully detained,” Price said . “That has been a priority of Secretary Blinken since the earliest days of his tenure.”
Whelan is a corporate security executive from Michigan who has been held in Russia. He was arrested in December 2018 while visiting for a friend’s wedding and was later sentenced to 16 years in prison on espionage-related charges that his family says are bogus.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.