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Silver: NBA, WNBA working 'side-by-side' to free imprisoned star Griner

Michael Gonzales / National Basketball Association / Getty

NBA commissioner Adam Silver says he's been working "side-by-side" with WNBA counterpart Cathy Engelbert behind the scenes to free Phoenix Mercury star Brittney Griner following her detainment in Russia in February.

There have been practical reasons for the leagues to stay relatively quiet on the ongoing situation.

"The league - and by that, both the WNBA and its brother league, the NBA - we have a huge responsibility to Brittney Griner as one of our players," Silver told ESPN's Malika Andrews prior to Tuesday's NBA draft lottery. "Part of our decision to not take a higher profile here frankly came at the suggestion of experts in and out of government who thought that the best path to getting Brittney out was not to amplify the issue.

"Having said that, there's an enormous role for the public to play through protest or letting their representatives know ... how strongly they feel about this."

As with previous WNBA offseasons, the 31-year-old Griner had been playing for Russian powerhouse UMMC Ekaterinburg. About one week prior to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, she was taken into custody at an airport near Moscow after allegedly possessing vape cartridges containing oil derived from cannabis.

The U.S. State Department officially reclassified Griner as a wrongful detainee earlier this month and officials began to negotiate for her return rather than wait for her legal proceedings to play out. International hostage negotiator Bill Richardson, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, agreed to take on Griner's case, a source told ESPN's T.J. Quinn.

On May 13, Russian state news agency TASS reported that Griner's pretrial detention had been extended through June 18, according to CNN's Jason Hanna and Anna Chernova.

On Tuesday, Silver reinforced how multipronged the effort to free Griner has been to date.

"We've been in touch with the White House, the State Department, hostage negotiators, every level of government and also through the private sector as well," Silver said. "Our No. 1 priority is her health and safety and making sure that she gets out of Russia."

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