There’s newfound optimism in the case for Brittney Griner, the WNBA All-Star who was detained in Russia more than two months ago on allegations of illegally bringing vape cartridges containing hashish oil into the country, coming home. 

On Tuesday, ESPN reported that the U.S. government now considers her to have been “wrongfully detained,” indicating that they’ll now proceed toward negotiating her safe return home. Initially, the play was to wait as her case proceeded through the Russian legal system.

What does the ‘wrongfully detained’ indication mean?

That Griner’s family and team are comfortable with others speaking out against her detainment. For the last 76 days, those close to the star were telling others not to bring attention to the case as to avoid giving leverage for Russia to use her as a bargaining chip as the country continues to invade Ukraine.

Why is there more optimism now than before?

Last week, another American detained in Russia, former Marine Trevor Reed, returned home after three years. That meant there was a channel for communications even during heightened tensions during war.

The WNBA also announced it’d honor Griner during the season.

Upon news of the reclassification, the WNBA announced it’ll show Griner’s initials and jersey number on all 12 of its home courts.

The league also announced Griner will be paid her full salary, and the team will get cap relief.

Griner is due the maximum contract this season, netting her $227,900. That money will be paid to her regardless of if she plays this year, and her team, the Phoenix Mercury, will be granted salary cap relief and a roster spot to replace her — in whatever way you can replace the 6-foot-9 big who scored 20.5 points and grabbed 9.5 boards last season.

Players around the league began to speak out for the first time about Griner.

In a press conference on Tuesday, teammate Skylar Diggins-Smith said, “We didn’t forget about her. We think about her every day. We love her and we’re gonna continue to carry her legacy, her voice and play in her honor until she gets back here with us. President of the WNBPA Nneka Ogwumike added a Twitter thread about Griner’s situation as well.

What impact will Griner’s absence have on the league?

A tremendous one. Griner’s beloved by teammates, and a game-changer on the floor. Her teammates include all-time leading WNBA scorer Diana Taurasi, Diggins-Smith and Tina Charles. Phoenix will still be a competitive franchise without her, but with her, they’d be considered title favorite.

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