Los Angeles Times
Kicking into gear, Sykes calls attention to Griner
Sparks guard hopes shoe drive will raise awareness about push to free WNBA star.
Sparks guard Brittney Sykes and sneakers of all kinds awaited the young adults of the Covenant House California on Monday afternoon for the conclusion of a shoe drive honoring Brittney Griner.
The transitional adults ages 18 to 24 lined up in the shelter’s courtyard to chat with Sykes and pick out their favorite kicks donated by the Sparks in partnership with the nonprofit Hav A Sole. Sporting a shirt reading “We Are BG,” Sykes listened to their stories and hyped them up as they shopped for shoes collected throughout the WNBA season.
“These are kinda swaggy,” she said to one young woman before persuading her to try on the sneakers.
It’s what Griner used to do in Phoenix for her Heart and Sole Shoe Drive before she was detained by Russian officials in February while traveling during the WNBA offseason to play for UMMC Ekaterinburg, an elite basketball club. At the time of her arrest in a Moscow airport, Russian officials said they found hashish oil in Griner’s luggage.
The seven-time WNBA All-Star pleaded guilty to carrying the substance during a court appearance July 7, but she said she did not bring it into the country with criminal intent and later provided a doctor’s letter indicating cannabis was recommended for pain relief. Griner’s next court date is scheduled for Tuesday. She could face up to 10 years in prison.
Since her arrest, Griner’s loved ones and people from across the sports world have participated in a campaign to bring her home. Griner’s supporters and the basketball star herself have called on the White House to negotiate a deal for her freedom. Griner wrote to President Biden this month asking him not to “forget about me and the other American detainees. Please do all you can to bring us home.”
When the Sparks played the Phoenix Mercury in Los Angeles on July 4, the team held a shoe drive in Griner’s honor. She was known for keeping shoes in the trunk of her car to give to those in need and inspired the Mercury to start annual shoe drives.
In giving back to the community, Sykes hopes to keep the conversation about Griner and her generous spirit alive.
“To be able to come here and partner with Hav A Sole and partner with the Covenant House and have the opportunity to meet some really dope kids and just be able to honor the fact that she saw something in Phoenix and she wanted to help a problem, you can do that anywhere,” Sykes said.
The Sparks guard said delivering shoes to those in need was bittersweet because Griner remains detained. When she thinks about it, Sykes said she feels angry, particularly about the circumstances that led to Griner’s detention. Many WNBA players such as Griner travel overseas during the offseason to supplement their incomes.
Sykes also said she feels sad and scared.
“Put yourself in her shoes. She’s away from her family. Imagine being away from your family. Imagine being away from your wife,” Sykes said of Griner. “Imagine how her mom feels. Imagine how her family feels. It’s something that you can’t imagine.
It’s something that you can only feel empathetic with and just try to do something. Just to sit and do nothing is not OK.”
One way people can help, Sykes said, is by contacting their elected officials and urging them to push for Griner’s release. While some have criticized Griner for breaking local laws, her supporters want people to know who she is off the basketball court.
Sykes said events like the shoe drive give people a glimpse into Griner’s character.
“People cannot only know her as a name and as a basketball player, but know her as Brittney Griner, why we love her and why we want her back here so bad,” Sykes said. “It’s about her giving back to the community, her being a loving friend, her being a goofball, like a bright spirit. Her heart is what draws you to her, so we want her back. … That’s not just a basketball player. She’s a human being, and she’s supposed to be back here with us.”