Basketball star Brittney Griner arrives at Russian court for trial on drug charges

Basketball star Brittney Griner arrives at Russian court for trial on drug charges
WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner is escorted to a courtroom for a hearing, in Khimki just outside Moscow on July 7, 2022. (AP)
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Updated 07 July 2022

Basketball star Brittney Griner arrives at Russian court for trial on drug charges

Basketball star Brittney Griner arrives at Russian court for trial on drug charges
  • The athlete was detained in February at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport after vape canisters with cannabis oil allegedly were found in her luggage
  • She faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted of large-scale transportation of drugs

MOSCOW: Jailed American basketball star Brittney Griner returned to a Russian court Thursday to face her trial on drug charges as a senior Russian diplomat warned that US criticism of how Russia’s handling the case wouldn’t help her release prospects.
Griner’s trial began last week amid a growing chorus of calls for Washington to do more to secure her freedom nearly five months after her arrest.
The athlete was detained in February at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport after vape canisters with cannabis oil allegedly were found in her luggage. She faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted of large-scale transportation of drugs.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov warned Thursday that “attempts by the American side to make noise in public ... don’t help the practical settlement of issues.”
The White House said President Joe Biden called Griner’s wife on Wednesday to assure her that he’s doing all he can to obtain the athlete’s release, as soon as possible. They spoke after Biden read a letter from Griner in which she said she feared she’d never return home.
Washington hasn’t made public its strategy in the case and the United States may have little leverage with Moscow because of strong animosity due to Russia’s military actions in Ukraine. The State Department has designated Griner as wrongfully detained, moving her case under the supervision of its special presidential envoy for hostage affairs, effectively the government’s chief hostage negotiator.
Asked about the possibility of Griner being swapped for a Russian jailed in the US, Ryabkov, the senior Russian diplomat, noted that until her trial is over “there are no formal or procedural reasons to talk about any further steps.”
He warned that US criticism, including a description of Griner as wrongfully detained and dismissive comments about the Russian judicial system, “makes it difficult to engage in detailed discussion of any possible exchanges.”
The trial of the Phoenix Mercury star and two-time Olympic gold medalist was adjourned after its start last week because two scheduled witnesses did not appear. Such delays are routine in Russian courts and her detention has been authorized through Dec. 20, suggesting the proceedings could last months.
It was unclear if Griner would testify Thursday.
Although Griner’s supporters initially kept a low profile, calls for the United States to take action spiked after the trial’s first day.
The Rev. Al Sharpton, one of America’s most prominent Black activists, this week called for Biden to arrange a prayer meeting with Griner, saying, “Four months is too long for this to have gone on, and I hope the President acts on her pleas to come home.”
An organization called Win With Black Women sent Biden a letter saying Secretary of State Antony Blinken “has called Cherelle Griner, Brittney’s wife, assuring her and stating publicly that Brittney’s safe return was a matter of personal priority; however, we are concerned that the rhetoric does not appear to align with the actions taken to date. We urge you to make a deal to get Brittney back home swiftly.”
Russian news media have repeatedly speculated that Griner could be swapped for Russian arms trader Viktor Bout, nicknamed “the Merchant of Death,” who is serving a 25-year sentence in the US on conviction of conspiracy to kill US citizens and providing aid to a terrorist organization.
Russia has agitated for Bout’s release for years. But the wide discrepancy between Griner’s alleged offense and Bout’s global dealings in deadly weapons could make such a swap unpalatable to Washington.
Others have suggested that she could be traded along with Paul Whelan, a former Marine and security director serving a 16-year sentence in Russia on an espionage conviction that the US has repeatedly described as a setup.
Russia has shown no signs of backing off.
“This is a serious offense, confirmed by indisputable evidence ... Attempts to present the case as if the American was detained illegally do not hold up,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexei Zaitsev said Wednesday.
“The law has been violated, and arguments about the innocent nature of Griner’s addiction, which, by the way, is punishable in some US states, are inappropriate in this case,” he said.


Devin Booker hits for 51, fuels Suns’ 132-113 rout of Bulls

Devin Booker hits for 51, fuels Suns’ 132-113 rout of Bulls
Updated 01 December 2022

Devin Booker hits for 51, fuels Suns’ 132-113 rout of Bulls

Devin Booker hits for 51, fuels Suns’ 132-113 rout of Bulls
  • Jordan Clarkson had a season-high 33 points and five assists, and Utah snapped a five-game losing streak

PHOENIX: Devin Booker scored a season-high 51 points in just three quarters, Deandre Ayton had 30 points and 16 rebounds and the Phoenix Suns stretched their winning streak to six games with a 132-113 victory over the Chicago Bulls on Wednesday night.

Booker scored 25 points in the first half and had 26 more in a sublime third quarter. After a contested 3-pointer splashed through the net, “MVP! MVP!” chants broke out across Footprint Arena, and the 26-year-old is certainly making an early season case.

The two-time All-Star had a steal late in the third before sprinting downcourt and flushing home a dunk for his 50th and 51st points. He added six assists and four rebounds. He didn’t play in the fourth quarter with the Suns holding a healthy lead.

Booker shot 20 of 25 from the field, going 6 of 7 from 3-point range. It was his second straight 40-point game. He had 44 in a victory at Sacramento on Monday night.

The Bulls struggled on defense the entire night. DeMar DeRozan led Chicago with 29 points. Zach LaVine added 21.

NUGGETS 120 ROCKETS 10

Jamal Murray scored 26 points, Nikola Jokic had 10 of his 12 assists in the first half and Denver won their fourth straight by beating Houston.

Jokic added 17 points and nine rebounds in just 27 minutes. Aaron Gordon scored 20 points and Bruce Brown had 18 for Denver, which never trailed in beating Houston for the second time in three days.

Kevin Porter Jr. scored 23 points and Alperen Sengun had 18 points and 11 rebounds for the Rockets, who fell behind 6-0 and 13-2 and trailed by as many as 33 points.

The Nuggets built a 74-47 halftime lead with Jokic taking just two shots. He instead spent most of the half passing to Murray and other open teammates for easy buckets.

JAZZ 125 CLIPPERS 112

Jordan Clarkson had a season-high 33 points and five assists, and Utah snapped a five-game losing streak.

Collin Sexton added 21 points, six rebounds and six assists for the Jazz. Lauri Markkanen chipped in 23 points and nine rebounds. Jarred Vanderbilt added 14 points and 12 rebounds.

John Wall finished with a season-high 26 points off the bench to lead Los Angeles. Reggie Jackson added 15 points for the Clippers, who lost despite outscoring Utah 65-22 in bench points.

CELTICS 134 HEAT 121

Jayson Tatum had eight 3-pointers and scored a season-high 49 points, and Boston held off hot-shooting Miami.

Tatum scored the Celtics’ first six points and had 41 points after three quarters. He finished 15 of 25 from the field, 8 of 12 from 3-point range and 11 of 12 from the line. He also grabbed 11 rebounds.

Jaylen Brown finished with 26 points following a one-game absence due to neck stiffness. Malcolm Brogdon added 21 points, connecting on five of Boston’s 22 3-pointers in the game. Boston shot 55 percent (46 for 83) and has won five straight and 14 of its last 15.

Max Strus finished with 23 points and five 3-pointers for the Heat. Bam Adebayo also added 23 points before being ejected in the closing seconds following a pair of technical fouls. Miami, which shot 52 percent (47 for 90) overall, was 18 of 40 from beyond the arc.

BUCKS 109 KNICKS 103

Giannis Antetokounmpo had 37 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists, and Grayson Allen made the tiebreaking 3-pointer with 30 seconds left after his superstar teammate fouled out, leading Milwaukee past New York.

Allen made only one 3-pointer, but it was the only one the Bucks needed after Antetokounmpo had carried them for so long.

He fouled out with a minute left and the Bucks leading by two. Mitchell Robinson made one free throw and the Knicks got the rebound when he missed the second, leading to a free throw by Jalen Brunson that tied it with 47 seconds remaining. After Allen’s 3-pointer, RJ Barrett missed a 3 for the Knicks and the Bucks closed it out from the free throw line.

Jrue Holiday had 22 points, six rebounds and five assists for the Bucks.

Barrett scored 26 points, Julius Randle added 18 and Brunson had 17 for the Knicks.

NETS 113 WIZARDS 107

Kevin Durant scored 39 points and Brooklyn extended its winning streak to three games by beating Washington.

Durant was 13 for 20 from the field and hit all 11 of his free throws in 37 minutes after scoring a season-high 45 points Monday night in a victory over Orlando.

Kyrie Irving added 27 points and Joe Harris had 14. Brooklyn has won five in a row at home.

Kristaps Porzingis had 27 points and 19 rebounds for Washingon. Bradley Beal and Kyle Kuzma each had 25 points for the Wizards, who have lost four of their last five games.

PELICANS 126 RAPTORS 108

Zion Williamson had 33 points, four steals and two blocks, and Trey Murphy added six 3-pointers and 26 points as New Orleans beat Toronto.

The Pelicans shot 52.3 percent from the floor on 45-of-86 shooting, had 28 assists and led by as many as 31 points midway through the third quarter.

Four other Pelicans scored in double figures: Jonas Valanciunas had 16 points and 13 rebounds, rookie Dyson Daniels added 14 points and nine assists, Herb Jones had 12 points and Larry Nance Jr. 10.

Toronto was led by Gary Trent Jr., who scored 35 points, and Pascal Siakam with 23.

CAVALIERS 113 76ERS 85

Caris LeVert scored 22 points off the bench, Darius Garland had 21 points and nine assist and Cleveland routed Philadelphia.

Donovan Mitchell added 18 points and six assists for Cleveland, which led by a season-high 33 points in the fourth quarter. The Cavaliers are 9-1 at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, the third-best home mark in the NBA.

All-Star center Joel Embiid led Philadelphia across the board with 19 points, six rebounds and six assists, and Shake Milton scored 14 points. The 76ers had their three-game win streak snapped in the opener of a three-game trip.

Philadelphia’s starting backcourt of All-Star James Harden and Tyrese Maxey remains out with injuries. The Cavaliers played without All-Star center Jarrett Allen, who missed his third consecutive game with a low back bruise.

TIMBERWOLVES 109 GRIZZLIES 101

Anthony Edwards had 29 points, five steals and three blocks to lead Minnesota over Memphis in the first game of an extended absence for injured Timberwolves star Karl-Anthony Towns.

Jaylen Nowell added 24 points off the bench and D’Angelo Russell had 15 points and 10 assists for the Timberwolves, who forced a season-high 27 turnovers by the Grizzlies and snapped a three-game losing streak despite being outrebounded 59-29 in a sloppy but spirited matchup.

Ja Morant scored 24 points and Jaren Jackson Jr. had 16 points and 11 rebounds for the Grizzlies, who lost their cool down the stretch with successive ejections for Dillon Brooks and Morant. Grizzlies rookie David Roddy finished 13 points and five rebounds in his native city.

HAWKS 125, MAGIC 108

Trae Young had 30 points and 14 assists and Atlanta snapped a three-game losing streak with a win over Orlando.

Dejounte Murray added 27 points and Clint Capela finished with 20 points and 12 rebounds after a dominating first quarter in which Atlanta built an 11-point lead.

Franz Wagner had 22 points and six rebounds for Orlando, which lost its sixth straight. Paolo Banchero added 20 points and five assists.

Led by Capel and Jarrett Culver (12 rebounds), Atlanta had a 49-33 rebound advantage.

THUNDER 119 SPURS 111

Rookie Jalen Williams scored a season-high 27 points and Oklahoma City overcame a 20-point second-half deficit to hand San Antonio their ninth straight loss.

Lu Dort scored 23 points and Josh Giddey added 14 points and 14 rebounds for the Thunder. Oklahoma City guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, the league’s No. 3 scorer with 31.1 points per game, sat out with a bruised hip.

Devin Vassell scored 25 points and Keldon Johnson added 19 for the Spurs.


Lewandowski celebrates ‘happy defeat’ as Poland go through to next round

Lewandowski celebrates ‘happy defeat’ as Poland go through to next round
Updated 01 December 2022

Lewandowski celebrates ‘happy defeat’ as Poland go through to next round

Lewandowski celebrates ‘happy defeat’ as Poland go through to next round
  • That late Saudi goal ensured Poland finished as runner-up in Group C, ahead of Mexico on goal difference

DOHA: Robert Lewandowski left the field with a huge smile on his face after blowing kisses to fans and hugging teammates.

You’d never know his team just lost a crucial World Cup game 2-0 to Argentina.

But Poland scraped into the knockout stages of the tournament, despite Wednesday’s loss to the South American champions, after Salem Aldawsari’s stoppage-time goal for Saudi Arabia in a 2-1 defeat to Mexico.

That late goal ensured Poland finished as runner-up in Group C, ahead of Mexico on goal difference, to set up a last 16 game against France on Sunday.

“You can say it’s a happy defeat,” said Lewandowski, who failed to even have a shot on target. “I’m not happy with the way we played. Of course not. We can’t be happy with the game itself.”

Poland had been thoroughly outplayed by Argentina with Lewandowski an ineffective isolated figure as his team was pegged back for the duration of the game. Argentina had 24 attempts at goal, 13 on target. Poland had three, none on target.

“We didn’t want to take any risk and, you know, we achieved our result because we reached the next round,” Lewandowski said with a smile. “Even though we lost, we can be happy.”

Poland coach Czeslaw Michniewicz said his team’s lack of attacking threat wasn’t Lewandowski’s fault.

“I’m not attacking anyone from the team, but we didn’t help him to score,” Michniewicz said. “If (Lionel) Messi played for us and Robert played for Argentina, Robert would have scored five goals. Robert needed to get assistance and the match was played in our half. There were so many players covering him.”

Poland had goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny to thank for a string of saves — including a first-half penalty from Messi — and Karol Swiderski for a goal-line clearance that avoided a heavier defeat.

Yet Poland’s players celebrated like they’d won, spraying each other with water bottles on the field.

It had been an anxious wait.

Poland’s game finished but Mexico was leading Saudi Arabia 2-0 and desperately pushing for the third goal that would have been enough to progress at Poland’s expense.

Both Poland and Mexico had four points, with two goals scored and two goals conceded each at that moment. Poland only had the edge by having fewer yellow cards than Mexico’s players.

Poland defender Bartosz Bereszynski covered his face. He couldn’t bear the tension.

Then Aldawsari scored for Saudi Arabia to end Mexico’s hopes.

“I guess it’s the first time I felt you can be happy after a loss,” Lewandowski said.

The Poland star is already looking ahead to Sunday’s game against France.

“It’s another favorite to win the world championship and we’ve nothing to lose,” he said. “We know what kind of players they have but we have to enjoy it and do our best. We have to fight … France will be a huge challenge and we have to play better than today.”


Maradona would be ‘super happy,’ says Messi

Maradona would be ‘super happy,’ says Messi
Updated 01 December 2022

Maradona would be ‘super happy,’ says Messi

Maradona would be ‘super happy,’ says Messi
  • Messi, who still needs a World Cup winner’s medal to cement his legacy as one of the sport’s greatest players, believes Argentina are moving up through the gears

DOHA:  Lionel Messi believes Diego Maradona would be “super happy” after he led Argentina into the World Cup last 16 on Wednesday thanks to a 2-0 win over Poland.

Messi became his country’s most capped player at the tournament with a 22nd appearance surpassing his legendary compatriot who died just over two years ago.

“I learned it recently, I didn’t know it. It’s a pleasure to be able to continue to achieve these kinds of records. I think Diego would be super happy for me, because he always showed me a lot of affection, he was always happy when things went well for me,” said Messi.

Despite missing a penalty — his 39th career failure from the spot — the Argentina captain said he was “happy” with this “big match.” 

“We achieved our first objective, which was to get out of the group after starting the way we did (a shock 2-1 loss against Saudi Arabia),” said Messi.

“I was really frustrated to have missed the penalty, because I knew that a goal could change the whole match, that it makes you play in a different way. But I think that from the penalty I missed, the team came out stronger.”

Messi, who still needs a World Cup winner’s medal to cement his legacy as one of the sport’s greatest players, believes Argentina are moving up through the gears at precisely the right time.

“After the first goal, everything went our way. We started doing again what we had been trying to do since the start of the World Cup, but which we hadn’t been able to achieve for various reasons.

“Having been able to do it today, it gives us confidence for the future.”

Next up for Argentina is a last 16 clash against Australia on Saturday.

“We know that now everything will be very difficult. That whoever the opponent, it will be complicated. We have seen recently, at our own expense, that any opponent can play a good game and win.”


Green Falcons depart the World Cup with bittersweet memories of Lusail Stadium

Green Falcons depart the World Cup with bittersweet memories of Lusail Stadium
Updated 01 December 2022

Green Falcons depart the World Cup with bittersweet memories of Lusail Stadium

Green Falcons depart the World Cup with bittersweet memories of Lusail Stadium
  • Despite exiting Qatar 2022 at the site of their historic victory over Argentina, the Saudi players and supporters showed why they will be badly missed at the tournament

DOHA: Saudi Arabia will leave this World Cup having developed a love-hate relationship with Lusail Stadium. This striking architectural masterpiece is where their World Cup sprang to life in sensational fashion with that stunning win over Argentina in their opening game, which will be remembered for generations.

Sadly, after losing to Poland in game two, they could not follow up the triumph over Argentina with victory against Mexico in game three, and so it was that at Lusail Stadium on Wednesday their campaign came to a somewhat anticlimactic end.

But both before and after the game the Saudi fans showed why they will be so badly missed during the remainder of the tournament. Despite the defeat, they were in joyous spirits after the game, spilling out onto Lusail Boulevard to celebrate what was their modern footballing coming of age.

Walking — or should that be running — to Lusail Stadium before the game in a mad dash after witnessing Australia make history at Al-Janoub Stadium, one could be forgiven for thinking there were as many fans outside as inside.

Lusail Boulevard was looking resplendent as ever, with the flags of the competing nations flying overhead as tens of thousands of fans mingled and the match got underway.

As I arrived shortly after kick-off, the screams and cheers could be heard some distance from the stadium, leaving one to wonder what exactly was happening and which set of fans were making all the noise. As numerous and vocal as the Saudi fans were, the Mexican fans matched anything they had to offer.

There was so much green inside Lusail that it was hard to know which team had the greatest support because, once again, the atmosphere generated by both sets of fans was incredible.

Despite their win over Argentina and an impressive showing against Poland in defeat, the Green Falcons were under the pump for most of the first half against a Mexican side that clearly meant business. Mexico knew they needed goals to have any hope of advancing and they came out with only one intent.

Missing a host of first-team regulars, victory was always going to be a tall order for Herve Renard’s side and that is exactly how the first half played out. The Green Falcons managed few advances into the forward third of the pitch, at least few that threatened, and so the biggest cheers were reserved for lunging tackles and desperate saves.

Still, at the break the Saudis were still alive. While the score remained 0-0 they stood a chance, and with Salem Al-Dawsari there is always reason to be optimistic.

Lusail Stadium has instantly become an iconic World Cup Stadium. From its stunning, shimmering gold facade to the steep banks of seats in the grandstands that have the near-90,000 fans sitting right on top of the action, it will provide an incredible setting for the final in a little over two weeks.

But tonight, Mexico did to Saudi Arabia what the Saudis did to Argentina on matchday one, scoring two goals in a four-minute spell inside of the opening 10 minutes of the second half that ended the contest and silenced the normally vociferous Saudi fans.

But while those wearing Saudi green had lost their voice, those in Mexican green had found theirs. Beating drums, screaming chants, waving flags; the Mexican fans brought Lusail Stadium to life and the party did not end with the full-time whistle.

The great shame for the rest of the tournament is that both teams were eliminated, because the World Cup has lost two of its most passionate sets of fans.

But as the party continued on Lusail Boulevard long after full time we were reminded that the World Cup is not only about success on the pitch — it is also about the experience, the atmosphere and uniting the world.

As I looked around at the Saudi fans in Mexican hats, and fans from all over the world mingling and sharing the experience, I’m reminded that tonight there truly were no losers.


Salem Al-Dawsari’s strike too late for Green Falcons as Mexico prevail 2-1

Salem Al-Dawsari’s strike too late for Green Falcons as Mexico prevail 2-1
Updated 01 December 2022

Salem Al-Dawsari’s strike too late for Green Falcons as Mexico prevail 2-1

Salem Al-Dawsari’s strike too late for Green Falcons as Mexico prevail 2-1
  • Second-half goals from Henry Martin and Luis Chavez secured victory for Mexico but they finished third behind Poland in the group
  • Ali Al-Hassan nearly sent the bulk of the largely Saudi crowd wild late in the first half with a diving header that flashed wide of the far post

DOHA: Mexico suffered an agonizing exit from the World Cup on goal difference on Wednesday despite beating Saudi Arabia 2-1 in a dramatic finale to Group C.
Second-half goals from Henry Martin and Luis Chavez secured victory for Mexico but they finished third behind Poland after Salem Al-Dawsari’s late strike.
Mexico desperately pushed for a third goal in an effort to improve their goal difference as they faced elimination on FIFA fair play rules.
Saudi Arabia’s win over Argentina in their opening match was one of the World Cup’s great upsets, but they crashed back down to earth with a 2-0 loss to Poland in their second game.
Coach Herve Renard urged his players to show that was no flash in the pan and write themselves into Saudi football history by reaching knockout rounds for the first time since 1994.
Having failed to win either of their first two group games for the first time in 44 years, Mexico knew victory was essential if they were to stand a chance of reaching the last 16 at an eighth successive World Cup.
Mexico boss Gerardo Martino ditched the back five he used in the 2-0 loss to Argentina and brought in Martin to lead the attack.
It almost reaped immediate rewards but Saudi goalkeeper Mohammed Al-Owais raced out to block Alexis Vega after he was slipped in behind the defense by Hirving Lozano.
Al-Owais, one of the heroes of the 2-1 win over Argentina, tentatively palmed away a bouncing cross ahead of a lunging Martin and held weak attempts by Chavez and Orbelin Pineda.
Mohamed Kanno whipped a free-kick just over for Saudi Arabia, who saw defender Ali Al-Bulayhi forced off with injury — adding to their mounting casualty list.
Mexico continued to attack without success and Ali Al-Hassan nearly sent the bulk of the largely Saudi crowd wild late in the first half with a diving header that flashed wide of the far post.
Chavez tested Al-Owais right after the interval and Martin soon broke the deadlock as he turned in from close range following Cesar Montes’ clever flick-on at a corner.
Mexico’s second goal arrived just five minutes later when Chavez sensationally curled a free-kick into the top corner from 30 meters.
Keeping an eye on the score between Argentina and Poland, Mexico pushed relentlessly for a third goal, with Lozano’s effort ruled out for a tight offside.
Martin blazed over when he had a glorious chance and Chavez had another free-kick turned away by Al-Owais, who also sprawled to his right to claw out a drive from Lozano.
Uriel Antuna then had another goal disallowed for offside before Al-Dawsari’s late strike put an end to the drama.