Brittney Griner: Rally and prayer vigil for WNBA star to be held

The rally and prayer vigil will take place Monday night as Houston-area leaders gather in support of bringing the WNBA star home.

HOUSTON — Houston-area leaders will gather Monday evening for a rally and prayer vigil in an effort to bring detained WNBA star Brittney Griner home.

Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee will be joined by Mayor Sylvester Turner and others outside of the Toyota Center, as it’s been nearly four months since Griner was detained in Russia.

The rally will take place at 6 pm outside of the arena and feature special guests and music.

In May, Griner appeared for a brief hearing handcuffed, her dreadlocks covered in a red hoodie and her face held low. The judge prolonged her detention until mid-June for her drug possession trial.

RELATED: State Dept pushing to see Griner; NBA Commissioner weighs in

Griner, 31, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, was detained at the Moscow airport back in February after vape cartridges containing oil derived from cannabis were allegedly found in her luggage. If convicted, she could face a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.

The Biden administration says the Houston native who played college ball at Baylor is being wrongfully detained. The WNBA and US officials have worked toward her release without visible progress.

Griner can’t play with her WNBA colleagues. She can’t call them, either. But she can write them.

In one small bit of normalcy, Griner has been able to receive emails and letters from WNBA players during her detainment in Russia. Hundreds of emails have been sent by players to an account Griner’s agent set up to allow them to communicate with her.

RELATED: US officials: Griner now considered ‘wrongfully detained’ by Russia

It’s not easy: The emails are printed out and delivered sporadically in bunches to Griner by her lawyer after they are vetted by Russian officials. Griner doesn’t have access to the email account; she’ll either write a response on paper and her lawyers will take a photo of it or she’ll dictate a response if she doesn’t have any paper.

Los Angeles Sparks forward Amanda Zahui B. never thought she’d hear back from Griner when she sent an email to the Phoenix Mercury center a few months ago.

“When she responded to my second letter it blew me away,” Zahui B. said. “I was like she responded!! In my third letter, I was like ‘hey best friend, we are officially best friends now.'”

Like so many WNBA players, Zahui B. wanted Griner to know she was thinking about her as the two-time Olympic gold medalist remains, in the view of US officials, wrongfully detained in Russia.

When Zahui B. got her first response from Griner it made her smile and she promised herself she would send more notes. And she has, sending them every few weeks. So have many other players.

“We just don’t want her to think she’s forgotten,” Liberty center Stefanie Dolson said.

It’s not just emails being sent to Griner; Diana Taurasi actually sent a hand-written letter to her Mercury and Olympic teammate.

RELATED: Dozens of families gather in Washington DC for campaign to rescue American hostages

Griner’s agent Lindsay Kagawa Colas said the letters have been a way for the 6-foot-9 center to stay connected to her WNBA family.

Some players just offer hopes and prayers for Griner’s release and say they are thinking about her. Others send Sudoku puzzles or more personal notes.

New York Liberty’s Sandy Brondello, who coached Griner in Phoenix for nine seasons, just found out about the chance to email her former player a few days ago.

“I’m going to tell her that I love her and that I’m thinking about her,” said an emotional Brondello. “That’s my girl, it’s terrible. She’s been there too long.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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