With center Brittney Griner imprisoned in Russia since February, her WNBA team, the Phoenix Mercury, have continued to make sure her presence is felt in the league and the local community.
That includes working with Griner’s foundation, BG’s Heart & Sole Shoe Drive, in her absence. On Wednesday, the Mercury announced that the team and its fans have collected more than 3,200 pairs of new and gently used shoes and raised more than $27,000 to benefit Phoenix Rescue Mission.
The Mercury said this season’s drive collected more shoes than the first four years of the program combined, which was approximately 2,000 pairs. Griner, who turns 32 in October, has long been known for her work with those in need in Phoenix, and the Mercury wanted to make sure that mission continued.
The team partnered with Phoenix Rescue Mission for three distribution events throughout the season where Mercury players, coaches, staff and fans distributed shoes, hygiene kits, water and other resources to those in need across the area.
Other WNBA teams had similar shoe drives in their markets, with more than 3,400 pairs collected, the Mercury said.
Griner founded BG’s Heart and Sole Shoe Drive in 2016 after seeing unhoused persons in the heat of Phoenix summer without shoes. Since arriving in Phoenix in 2013, Griner has been recognized multiple times with the WNBA Community Assist Award for her impact in the area.
Throughout the year, the Mercury coaches and players have frequently spoken in support of Griner, whom the franchise chose with the No. 1 pick in the 2013 WNBA draft and helped the team win the 2014 championship. Griner is also a two-time Olympic gold medalist for the United States.
She was arrested at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport in February on drug charges when returning to Russia to finish her overseas season there. Griner pleaded guilty in July, saying that the vape cartridges containing hashish oil were in her luggage unintentionally. Griner had no real choice but to enter a guilty plea, experts on the Russian judicial system said.
She was sentenced to nine years in prison in early August. According to experts, her best chance of being released sooner would rest on a prisoner swap between the United States and Russia.