The professional basketball leagues WNBA and NBA condemn the Russian verdict against US star Brittney Griner. US President Joe Biden is also sharply critical.

The North American professional basketball leagues WNBA and NBA have strongly criticised the Russian verdict against US star Brittney Griner.

The nine-year prison sentence imposed by a court in Khimki near Moscow for drug smuggling was “unjust and regrettable”, the two leagues said in a joint statement. The sentence was “predictable”, but the 31-year-old remains “unjustly” imprisoned, they added.

According to the statement, the WNBA and NBA will “continue to work for the safe return” of the American to the USA. There is still hope for a speedy end.

US President Biden angry about Griner verdict

Griner’s WNBA team Phoenix Mercury spoke of a “sobering milestone” within the “nightmare” for their own player. “

We know the process that was supposed to bring our friend home never went legit,” the club wrote. They were “heartbroken”, but at the same time had great confidence in the officials “who are working every day to bring her back to her family and to us”.

US President Joe Biden had called Thursday’s decision “unacceptable” in a first reaction.

The star player’s legal team announced immediately after the verdict that it would appeal, but the chances of a significant reduction in the prison sentence are likely to be slim.

Tears among Griner’s teammates

Before the Mercury’s match with the Connecticut Sun on Thursday (local time), players from both teams lined up in the centre circle, interlocked their arms and remained silent for 42 seconds in memory of Griner’s number.

Some of them were in tears. Then they shouted “bring her home”.

“We knew this was going to happen, we were prepared for it,” said Phoenix coach Vanessa Nygaard: “We didn’t put our hopes in the Russian justice system.” She said it was “such an emotional day”.

Griner, a two-time Olympic champion, had been arrested at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport in February before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine after security forces found vape cartridges containing cannabis oil in her luggage.

At the beginning of the trial, she pleaded guilty.