‘A political pawn’: Outrage grows in the United States over Griner’s sentencing. | Big Indy News
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‘A political pawn’: Outrage grows in the United States over Griner’s sentencing.



The W.N.B.A. star Brittney Griner’s friends and colleagues expressed support and sadness for her after a Russian court found her guilty of attempting to smuggle illegal narcotics into Russia and sentenced her to nine years in a penal colony.

“Just really feeling sad and feeling sick for Brittney and hoping that she gets home as soon as possible,” said Breanna Stewart, a four-time W.N.B.A. All-Star who had played with Griner on the Russian team UMMC Yekaterinburg since 2020. “Now that the trial is done and the sentencing happened, I know she’s got to be in a very emotional state and just want her to know that we’re still continuing to do whatever we can to get her home.”

Griner has been detained in Russia since Feb. 17, when Russian customs officials at an airport near Moscow said they found hashish oil in vape cartridges in her luggage. Her trial began on July 1 and the conviction had been widely expected. The U.S. State Department has said that Griner is being wrongfully detained and that it has been working to negotiate her release.

Griner’s family has sought help from Bill Richardson, the former New Mexico governor who is working to secure the release of Griner and of Paul Whelan, a former Marine who has been detained in Russia since 2018.

“Today’s sentencing of Brittney Griner was severe by Russian legal standards and goes to prove what we have known all along, that Brittney is being used as a political pawn,” Griner’s agent, Lindsay Kagawa Colas, said on Twitter. “We appreciate and continue to support the efforts of @POTUS and @SecBlinken to get a deal done swiftly to bring Brittney, Paul and all Americans home.”

Moments after the verdict, A’ja Wilson of the Las Vegas Aces tweeted “Free BG!” with an emoji of an orange heart. Dijonai Carrington of the Connecticut Sun tweeted “praying so hard for BG.”

The Phoenix Mercury released a statement calling Griner’s situation a nightmare.

“While we knew it was never the legal process that was going to bring our friend home, today’s verdict is a sobering milestone in the 168-day nightmare being endured by our sister, BG,” the Mercury’s statement said.

The W.N.B.A. players’ union posted a statement on Twitter from its executive director, Terri Carmichael Jackson, which called the verdict “unjust” and urged U.S. officials to do all they can to bring Griner home.

“Given her record of service on and off the court, BG deserves to come home,” the statement said.

It then called on the global sporting community to stand with Griner.

N.B.A. Commissioner Adam Silver and W.N.B.A. Commissioner Cathy Engelbert released a joint statement saying: “The W.N.B.A. and N.B.A.’s commitment to her safe return has not wavered, and it is our hope that we are near the end of this process of finally bringing BG home to the United States.”

Some N.B.A. players weighed in as well.

“Smh 9 Years…. Free BG,” Bam Adebayo of the Miami Heat said on Twitter.

Nets star Kyrie Irving tweeted: “What is truly happening with our Queen @brittneygriner @POTUS @VP? Please give us an Update.”

Representative Colin Allred, Democrat of Texas, has been working to secure Griner’s release since March.

“Folks must remember that this conviction is all part of a sham trial and Brittney was wrongfully detained,” Allred said on Twitter. “It is just another cynical way for Russia to try and gain leverage.”

Debbie Jackson, Griner’s high school basketball coach, held back tears after learning of Griner’s verdict. Jackson recruited Griner, then a volleyball player, to play basketball at Nimitz High School in Houston, setting her on a path toward stardom on the court.

“It makes me sick that that was the decision,” Jackson said. “I was trying to be optimistic, even fully aware that when you’re dealing with Russia, things don’t go the way you would hope they would.” She said she hoped Griner “can remain hopeful that our State Department will work on a prison swap for her and other Americans that are in prison over there.”

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Nets’ long homestand provides opportunity for season turnaround



Ben Simmons has begun playing like the two-way star the Nets envisioned when they traded for him. Kyrie Irving is back from suspension and has built up his minutes. Kevin Durant is Kevin Durant. Coach Steve Nash is gone, one scapegoat sacrificed.

The Nets, getting healthier and theoretically more powerful, are about to embark on a lengthy homestand in which missing standouts or jet lag or the Los Angeles nightlife or Indiana officiating cannot be blamed for any losses.

If the Nets are going to realize their potential and turn their talent into victories, there might not be a more likely time than the stretch of seven games over 13 days at Barclays Center against beatable opponents, which will begin Sunday against the banged-up Trail Blazers.

“I think this is essential for our season,” Irving said after a loss at Indiana on Friday dropped them to 9-11. “Just to be able to establish some great habits at home like we’ve been doing, but now we’ll be tested on a seven-game home stretch.

“I’m looking forward to just being in front of our fans. But more important, being in front of our home environment and being able to flourish out there.”

With their three stars back in full force, now is the time for the Nets to kick it up another notch.
Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

At times the Nets have flourished, but in spurts rather than long stretches. Durant, Simmons and Irving looked like a title-contending Big 3 for three quarters against the Pacers before the Nets unraveled, their defense grew holes and they were outscored by 17 points in the fourth quarter.

Finding consistency has been the problem, and the built-in excuse is legitimate. Their trio of stars has played together for only half their games. Simmons lacked confidence and was not healthy at the onset of the campaign. By the time he turned the corner, Irving was suspended.

Head coach Jacque Vaughn has shuffled rotations both out of need and out of experimentation to find groups of Nets who could defend and rebound, which have been weak spots on a team that has not jelled together.

Their hope is that some time to bond, to practice and work together in Brooklyn as they gain strength can rescue a squad that has not been at .500 since it was 1-1.

“This homestretch is interesting for us in order for us to take care of business. You get in that space hopefully where you get guys to return and you can solidify rotations,” Vaughn said Friday. “That’s what we’re searching for. We’ve got some of it by getting Ben playing more minutes now. That piece looks like it’s pretty solved.”

The complementary pieces are still taking shape. After offseason ankle surgery, Seth Curry is improving, but still not playing back-to-backs. Joe Harris, who also had ankle surgery, which ended his 2021-22 season after just 14 games, has been a major disappointment, unable to find his shot. Yuta Watanabe has looked like a find, but has missed three straight games with a hamstring strain. T.J. Warren, coming off foot surgery, has yet to debut.

“There’s still some work to be done to get to know each other,” said Vaughn, who is 7-6 since taking over for Nash. “But we do need to start streamlining this thing and get going in the right direction.”

The Nets will open their homestand against the Blazers, who will be without the injured Damian Lillard, before facing the pitiful Magic on a back-to-back. The Nets won’t play on consecutive days again during the homestand, which will include one power (the Celtics), several solid opponents (Wizards, Raptors and Hawks) and a doormat (Hornets).

“You get a little bit of rhythm,” Vaughn said. “Get a chance to watch some film, get a chance to walk through some things. All that matters. We haven’t had a chance to do that on the road just because we’ve been on the road and trying to recover. So hopefully we can take advantage of that.”

And they need to take advantage of Durant while he still might be the best player in basketball and is complemented by two legitimate and unique stars. Simmons has morphed into the valuable, do-everything-but-shoot star he had not been for a few years. Irving has scored at least 20 points in each of his past three games and is looking more comfortable.

If the reality ever is to match the theoretical for the Nets, maybe the next seven games will be the catalyst.

“It’s only my fourth game back, so I’m still getting my legs under me, catching back into a rhythm. And we’re still figuring out lineups,” Irving said. “But I think once we do that, we’ll be in better shape. I don’t want to keep coming in [media sessions] and overpromising, but we’re utilizing these games to figure things out.”

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Revered Borje Salming leaves behind lasting Maple Leafs, NHL legacy as icon



The beautiful part of it is that Borje Salming knew how the world perceived him before his passing as a victim of ALS on Thursday at age 71. The word “iconic” doesn’t quite do justice to the Hall of Fame defenseman. Salming was more that. He was revered. 

He was revered not only as a player, but also as an individual. Love and adoration flowed to Salming as a groundbreaker who became a pioneering role model in opening the door for an influx of his fellow Swedes into the NHL after he conquered an unwelcoming, antagonistic environment that confronted him and any who might threaten the Canadian hegemony of the league. 

Salming knew that. He knew that when he received a thunderous ovation at Maple Leaf Gardens during pregame introductions while representing Team Sweden prior to playing Team Canada in the 1976 Canada Cup. He knew that two weekends ago in Toronto on consecutive, emotional nights featuring one impromptu tribute and a second formal one that evoked tears. 

Similarly, he knew that at the Swedish Ice Hockey Federation Centennial Gala celebrating the country’s all-time greatest players at Avicii Arena in Stockholm just over one week ago, when his introduction evoked an emotional response. Salming was not only a beloved hockey player, but also a beloved individual in the way of Rod Gilbert, Jean Beliveau and Gordie Howe, and a beloved cultural icon in the way of Maurice Richard. 

Borje Salming
Borje Salming passed away at 71.
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Mika Zibanejad was born in 1993, three years after Salming retired from the NHL and the same year No. 21 stepped away from the Swedish League to which he had returned for his final three seasons. Zibanejad is of a different generation. But he’s not ignorant. 

“From my personal experience, the guys I grew up watching were Nicklas Lidstrom, Henrik Zetterberg, Peter Forsberg, Mats Sundin, Daniel Alfredsson,” Zibanejad told Slap Shots on Friday. “I was too young to see Salming play, and I’m sorry I never got the chance to interact with him, but I know what he did for our game. 

“He opened doors for players from Sweden and Europe and changed everything for us, and that is because of his courage.” 

Before Salming and countryman Inge Hammarstrom joined the Maple Leafs for the 1973-74 season, just three Swedes had played in the NHL. Ulf Sterner was the first, playing four games for the Rangers in 1964-65, but the slick center could not make the leap in an era in which European leagues did not permit bodychecking in the offensive zone. 

Juha Widing, another center who played for the Rangers in 1969-70 before he was traded to the Kings for Ted Irvine, was next. Detroit defenseman Thommie Bergman joined the league in 1972-73. Salming and Hammarstrom came over a year later in a time during which those of his origin were painted as, “Chicken Swedes.” By the way? In 2011, NBC analyst Mike Milbury called Daniel and Henrik Sedin, “Thelma and Louise,” so there was that. 

Salming joined the Leafs in an era during which Bobby Orr was just going out; Denis Potvin, Brad Park, Serge Savard, Guy Lapointe and Larry Robinson dominated on the blue line; and Raymond Bourque was just coming into the NHL. 

Borje Salming is honored in a ceremony on Nov. 11.
Borje Salming is honored in a ceremony on Nov. 11.
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From 1974-75 — Salming’s sophomore season — through 1979-80, the Swede was the only defenseman to be named either first-team or second-team All-Star in each of those six seasons. He was dominant at both ends of the ice, and was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1996. 

Salming was one of a kind. He kicked the door down for people like Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson to join the Rangers in 1978-79 as the 12th and 13th Swedes to play in the NHL. They faced constant physical abuse. They endured the slings and arrows so others could follow. 

Seventy-nine Swedes have played in the NHL this season. 

A statue of Borje Salming resides outside Scotiabank Arena.
A statue of Borje Salming resides outside Scotiabank Arena.
Getty Images

“I know it was not easy for any of those players. Of all of us who are in the NHL now owe them a debt of gratitude,” Zibanejad said. “They paved the way for us. 

“It’s not something I think about on a day-to-day basis, but I do try to keep that in mind. I’m very thankful for what they did. I want to be able to have the same positive influence and make things better for the next generation. 

“That’s a way I can repay Borje.” 

The NHL gets younger and faster all the time, while Brian Boyle gets neither. But the 37-year-old center, currently unemployed as a free agent, should be a person of interest for Stanley Cup contenders looking to shore up their bottom sixes. 

“I’m not retired,” the one-time Ranger and Devil said in a text exchange this week. “I’d love to be playing but so far the offers haven’t been there 

Boyle, the 2018 Masterton winner, rehabbed from knee surgery after sustaining an injury in Game 6 of the Penguins’ first-round series against the Rangers. 

“I was good in four weeks,” said Boyle, an inspirational figure after having conquered chronic myeloid leukemia. “I’m training hard and am staying ready. We’ll see. 

“But all is great.”

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Artemi Panarin’s scoreless streak grows to 12 games in Rangers’ loss



Artemi Panarin has gone 12 straight games without a goal after failing to score in the Rangers’ stunning 4-3 loss to the reeling Oilers on Saturday afternoon at the Garden. The 12 games tied the longest scoring drought of the Russian wing’s NHL career.

Game 12 likely stung more than the previous 11, however, considering Panarin thought he had scored twice.

Panarin had one of his more active games of the season, in two of the three periods at least. In addition to assisting on Chris Kreider’s second-period tally, Panarin posted two shots on goal and one takeaway. Both of his shots came in the first period.

The first came on a power play. Panarin wired one home from the right faceoff circle and had a look of relief rush upon his face. But Edmonton challenged for offside and the goal was rescinded after the replay revealed that Panarin never fully crossed the puck into the offensive zone before Vincent Trocheck entered.

Artemi Panarin reacts during the Rangers’ loss to the Oilers.
Jason Szenes

“Yeah, especially when I can’t score the last [11] games,” Panarin said when asked if he was frustrated. “Posts or something, always something. Just keep doing what I usually do. Try not to lose confidence. That’s the most important thing.”

Braden Schneider also had a goal negated after the Oilers challenged for goalie interference, which proved to be the case when replays showed Ryan Carpenter had made contact with Oilers goalie Jack Campbell in the blue crease.

Panarin later smacked a one-timer from the other faceoff circle and Campbell slid over to get in front of it just in time. It was unclear if the puck went in or not, so the refs got on the headsets with the situation room to give it a second look before it was officially deemed not a goal.

Panarin skated on the right wing of the top line next to Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider , similar to how the Rangers lined up at the end of their 3-2 loss to the Ducks in Anaheim on Wednesday and again in practice on Friday. That left Trocheck to center Jimmy Vesey and Barclay Goodrow. The Kid Line of Alexis Lafreniere, Filip Chytil and Kaapo Kakko remained intact, while the fourth line featured Sammy Blais, Ryan Carpenter and Julien Gauthier.

Vitali Kravtsov was scratched for a seventh straight game despite taking part in warmups Saturday afternoon. Additionally, Libor Hajek replaced Zac Jones on the left side of the bottom defensive pair alongside Braden Schneider. Jones had played in the previous three games and seemed primed to get a run in the lineup, as Hajek already had, but  head coach Gerard Gallant opted to switch it up.

The Rangers dropped to 8-2-1 when scoring first this season after giving up four unanswered tallies in the third period.

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