Brittney GrinerPleads Guilty in Russian Court ...Brings Photo of wife

UPDATE

7:08 AM PT -- Brittney Griner has just pled guilty to drug possession and smuggling charges in a Russian court. She told the judge, "I'd like to plead guilty, your honor, but there was no intent. I didn't want to break the law."

UPDATE

Griner spoke in English and it was translated to the court. She went on to say, "I'd like to give my testimony later. I need time to prepare." It's unclear what testimony to which she's referring, since she was pleading guilty. The testimony may involve sentencing.

UPDATE

The next hearing is set for July 14. Griner faces up to 10 years in prison. It's interesting the plea comes on the heels of President Biden saying he was stepping up efforts to win her release.

Brittney Griner is back in court in Russia as her trial continues onward ... but this time, she made sure to bring a very personal item with her -- a photo of her wife.

Cameras captured the WNBA superstar walking into a Moscow courtroom for another hearing in her drug case on Thursday morning ... and you can see in her hand, very clearly, was a photo of Cherelle Griner.

The picture appears to be a screen grab from one of Cherelle's recent television interviews ... and next to it, there was also a photo of Brittney holding a basketball.

Brittney seemed to want to make sure cameras snapped her holding the pics ... as she held out the paper and stared at photogs camped inside the halls of the courthouse on her way inside.

The 33-year-old hooper wore a red Crenshaw T-shirt, red sweats ... and had a stern look on her face.

The loud-and-clear message from Brittney comes just one day after both President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris spoke with Cherelle about Brittney's case.

White House officials said Biden and Harris assured Cherelle on the call they're pursuing "every avenue to bring Brittney home" and promised that they're "working to secure Brittney’s release as soon as possible."

Cherelle said in a statement shortly after the call she was "grateful" for the U.S. officials' contact ... but added at a rally for Brittney at the Footprint Center in Phoenix hours later that she "honestly can't rest until" Brittney is back on U.S. soil.

As we reported, Brittney is facing up to 10 years behind bars in Russia after she was accused of having drugs in her luggage at a Moscow airport back in mid-February.

Originally Published -- 6:34 AM PT

Ex-F1 Boss Bernie EcclestoneI'd 'Take A Bullet' For PutinBlames Ukraine For War

Former Formula 1 chief Bernie Ecclestone just gave an eyebrow-raising endorsement of Vladimir Putin ... calling the Russian president a "first-class person" and claiming he'd "take a bullet" for him.

The controversial comments came during Ecclestone's appearance on Good Morning Britain ... when the billionaire was asked if he still supports his friend amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

"I'd still take a bullet for him," 91-year-old Ecclestone said Thursday. "I'd rather it didn’t hurt, but if it does I'd still take a bullet, because he’s a first-class person. What he’s doing is something that he believed was the right thing he was doing for Russia."

Pretty interesting take, considering many want to see Putin dead.

Ecclestone also went after Volodymyr Zelensky ... claiming the Ukrainian president should have done more on his end to prevent the war.

"The other person in Ukraine," Ecclestone added. "His profession, I understand, he used to be a comedian. And I think he seems as if he wants to continue that profession."

"I think if he'd have thought about things, he would have definitely made the big enough effort to speak to Mr. Putin, who is a sensible person and would have listened to him and could have probably done something about it."

F1 distanced itself from his comments shortly after the interview ... saying, "The comments made by Bernie Ecclestone are his personal views and are in very stark contrast to the position of the modern values of our sport."

It's not the first time Bernie has found himself in hot water for his words -- he previously faced backlash for praising Adolf Hitler's ability to "get things done."

War In UkraineSummer Camp for Child Refugees... Helping Offset Trauma

A TASTE OF NORMALITY
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A brand new summer camp in Ukraine is going strong even though the war rages on ... and it's all about giving the kids something to look forward to in uncertain times.

Co-founders Yulia Grechka and Oxana Volzhina joined us on "TMZ Live" to talk about their summer program, the 7Fields Eco Camp -- located in a safe part of the region of Kyiv.

The mental toll put on the children of Ukraine has been overwhelming ever since Russia began invading their borders -- Yulia and Oxana knew something had to be done.

Their camp aims to provide 300 refugee kids with fun activities and psychological aid at no cost to the families before the summer's over. They've been working educational programs into the camp's activities, too -- the older children will be able to attend anti-corruption lectures.

Since the camp is free, the team is looking to get donations for the program ... those chipping in will get a letter sent to them, with info about the child they helped give a memorable summer to.

With tomorrow being uncertain for Ukrainians, Yulia and Oxana hope to give children the hope that a bright future is coming.

Ukraine WarFlames, Shockwave as Russian Missiles Hit Mall... Horrifying New Video

RUNNING FOR THEIR LIVES

The terror of Vladimir Putinfiring missiles on innocent civilians is on vivid display in these new videos showing the shopping mall Russia just destroyed.

Monday's missile strike in the central Ukrainian city of Kremenchuk destroyed the mall, sending fireballs into the sky and unleashing a shockwave on a nearby park. In the video, you can see citizens strolling peacefully when suddenly they have to run for their lives.

Some people took cover behind trees, while others jumped into a pond seeking cover from shrapnel and rocks that were sent flying. A massive piece of concrete from a building landed in the park, but luckily it didn't hit anyone.

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky said there were more than 1,000 people in the mall at the time of the strike -- and the latest death toll stands at 18, with nearly 60 injured and another 36 people still missing.

MAJOR ATTACK

As rescuers continue digging through the rubble, President Zelensky is labeling the missile strike "one of the most defiant terrorist attacks in European history."

He's also calling out the barbarism of Putin obliterating non-military targets -- "Only totally insane terrorists, who should have no place on Earth, can strike missiles at such an object. And, this is not an off-target missile strike, this is a calculated Russian strike -- exactly at this shopping mall."

War in UkraineRussian Missiles Blast Crowded Mall ...At Least 3 Dead, 40 Wounded

MAJOR ATTACK

Vladimir Putin is showing no mercy ... disgustingly firing missiles into a Ukraine shopping mall, and video following the attack shows the building -- with nearly 1,000 civilians inside -- up in flames.

Two Russian missiles were reportedly fired Monday into the shopping center, in the central city of Kremenchuk. According to officials, at least 3 are dead and 40 others are wounded. But, President Zelensky says, "It is impossible to even imagine the number of victims."

As you can see, the harrowing attack sparked a huge fire and caused a huge cloud of smoke to fill up the sky ... as soldiers and firefighters sifted through the rubble to search for survivors.

Zelensky confirmed the obvious ... that the mall held no military importance, and was not even near any other military target. Quite frankly, as Ukrainian officials put it ... the attack was a downright "act of terrorism against civilians".

Zelensky called it an effort by Russia to stop β€œpeople’s attempts to live a normal life, which make the occupiers so angry.”

Russia, on the other hand, has denied attacking innocent civilians since first launching the war on Ukraine, back in February.

Unfortunately, this isn't the first time we've seen attacks of this scale. You'll recall earlier strikes from Russia like the one at a Mariupol theater, back in March ... where nearly 600 reportedly were killed.

Brittney GrinerAppears In Russian Court... Shackles On Wrists, Flanked By Guards

WNBA superstar Brittney Griner appeared in a Russian court on Monday for an important hearing in her drug case ... and while she looked to be in good shape, she was flanked by multiple security guards and had shackles on her wrists.

The Phoenix Mercury center -- who had previously been ordered to remain in pretrial detention until at least July 2 -- made the appearance wearing a grey t-shirt and sweats.

At the proceedings, a July 1 trial date was set for Griner -- nearly five months after she was initially detained in the foreign country for allegedly having hashish oil in her luggage at an airport.

Photos from the court show the 2-time Olympic gold medalist had her eyes wide open ... and was cuffed to an officer who was leading her to her court appearance.

Griner, who was ordered to stay in custody for the duration of her trial, is facing up to 10 years behind bars if she's convicted on the charges against her.

6/14/22
POLITICAL PRISONER
TMZSports.com

While U.S. officials, including congressman Colin Allred, have claimed Griner is "a political prisoner" ... a spokesperson for Vladimir Putin, Dmitry Peskov, told NBC News that Brittney's detainment is because she broke the country's law, not because she's being used as some sort of pawn.

The U.S., according to Allred, is "actively negotiating" to get Griner back on American soil.

J.K. RowlingWait ... You're Not Zelensky?Trolled By Russian Pranksters

WIZARDLY PRANK

J.K. Rowling fell victim to a Russian-made prank while talking to who she thought was Ukrainian President Zelensky ... but ended up being one big troll.

The author jumped on a zoom call with -- not the president -- but Russian-based comedy duo Vovan and Lexus ... the two have been known for prank-calling high-profile names, like VP Kamala Harris and Prince Harry.

The person on the other end of the Zoom call obviously kept their camera off for the interview -- major red flag. She was planning on talking to Zelensky about her charity work for Ukraine, but the guys had other plans.

In the video, the impersonator tells J.K. they've been writing "Avada Kedavra" on their missiles -- referring to the most deadly spell in her wizarding world, often called the "killing curse." She tells them it's a brilliant idea.

They also ask about Dumbledore's sexual preference, someone she's previously said was gay. "Zelensky" says they're hoping Dumbledore hasn't slept with a transgender -- poking at Rowling's strong beliefs on trans people.

After learning she wasted her time talking to Russian trolls, her spokesperson told The Hollywood Reporter, "The video, which has been edited, is a distorted representation of the conversation," saying the entire thing was extremely "distasteful."

NikeExiting Russia For Good

Nike is leaving Russia permanently ... the shoe giant will no longer be doing business in the country after temporarily suspending its operations there 3 months ago.

Nike announced the official exit on Thursday, saying, "Our priority is to ensure we are fully supporting our employees while we responsibly scale down our operations over the coming months."

The move comes just three months after the retail giant suspended operations at all of its stores in Russia ... following Vladimir Putin's decision to invade Ukraine.

The Swoosh now joins huge companies like Starbucks and McDonald's, which both recently announced they're shutting down businesses in the foreign country as well.

Roy Jones Jr.Responds To Wladimir Klitschko Criticism ...We Can Fight If You Have A Problem

TIES ON BOTH SIDES
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Roy Jones Jr. is clapping back at Wladimir Klitschko -- after the former 2x heavyweight champ from Ukraine questioned RJJ's "moral compass" for his close relationship with Russia -- with the Hall of Fame boxer saying he doesn't want to see anyone hurt ... Russian or Ukrainian.

And, Jones Jr. makes it clear ... if Wladimir continues to badmouth him, they can get in a ring and figure out their differences.

"I have people on both sides of the fence. I don't wanna see nobody die. Nobody fight like that because people die of war. I don't wanna see nobody on either side die. I have loved ones on both sides of the fence. You understand me? I got kids on this side, people on that side. I love both sides. I don't want to see nobody die," Roy said.

Of course, the issue couldn't be closer to Wladimir ... whose been on the ground in Ukraine throughout the entire Russian invasion, witnessing almost endless death and destruction.

In fact, Wladimir's brother Vitali Klitschko is the mayor of Kyiv ... the capital (and most populous city) of Ukraine.

During W. Klitschko's Hall of Fame induction last weekend, the now immortalized pugilist had some very strong words for Roy ... who was also inducted the same weekend.

"There's one person for whom I have a real question. One person broke Ukrainian law by going to the occupied peninsula of Crimea through Russian territory," Klitschko said.

"So, Roy, whose side are you on? On the side of the aggressor, or on the side of the defender of his right to live? I respect you as a fighter but I really question your moral compass."

FYI, a few years back, Roy became a citizen of Russia (he remains a U.S. citizen, too).

But, Roy says the last thing he wants to see is people die in a war.

"If it was up to me, we wouldn't even have a war. You understand where I'm coming from? So don't try to put me off in there like I'm some guy, 'Oh, he's happy this.' "I don't know enough about it to be happy about it. How could I tell you, I don't know that Russia wrong. I don't know that Ukraine wrong. I don't know who the hell might be right or wrong. And I don't care 'cause that's not my field."

Jones Jr. continued ... "If I was a president, senator or politician, then I'd be ready to argue with him, but I'm not. So, the only thing I can argue with him about is if he thinks he can whoop me, then we can have that argument."

Whether or not Jones Jr.'s response is enough to appease Wladimir is unclear. And, if it's not, Roy seems ready to take things to the ring.

"If you think you can whoop me, that's a whole different thing. I do still box for a living. If you want to talk about whooping me, that's one other thing. if you want to do something about it, then me and you can fight anytime."

Brittney GrinerRussian Detention Extended

Brittney Griner will remain in custody in Russia for at least another two and a half weeks ... the WNBA superstar's detention was just extended by a court until July 2.

The ruling was handed down on Tuesday, according to Russian state media outlet TASS, after investigators requested the extension.

The decision comes on the heels of U.S. State Department officials meeting with representatives from Brittney's current WNBA team, the Phoenix Mercury, to discuss ways to safely return the professional hooper to America.

Specific details of the meeting remain tight-lipped -- it's unclear who exactly attended or what was discussed -- but officials confirmed to the Associated Press the forum did indeed happen.

The 31-year-old has been in Russian custody since mid-February ... after officials say she had hash oil in her luggage while going through airport security.

President ZelenskyMillions Could Starve Around the World!!!Russia Needs to Lift Blockade

FIGHTING OFF STARVATION

The world is on the brink of a terrible food crisis if Russia doesn't lift the blockade of Ukraine's Black Sea ports ... so says Ukrainian President Zelensky.

Zelensky made a televised announcement Thursday, warning dozens of countries may face a physical food shortage because Ukraine is unable to export a huge amount of products including wheat, corn and vegetable oil.

Zelensky says these products and many others play a stabilizing role in the global market. And, as a result, millions of people may starve. For now, he says, he's currently talking to PM Boris Johnson and other world leaders to figure out how to lift the Russian blockade.

In the message, Zelensky took a jab at Putin -- saying he's trying to blackmail the world with hunger. He says, "While we are looking for ways to protect freedom, another person is destroying it."

Before Russia's invasion in February, Ukraine reportedly exported up to 6 million tonnes of grain a month -- now that number is down to about 1 million tonnes, which is being transported through smaller ports.

Trevor ReedCalls For Griner's Release At Rally... 'There Is No Justice In Russia'

Trevor Reed, a former Marine who was detained in Russia for nearly 3 years, is calling for the release of WNBA superstar Brittney Griner, explaining the conditions in the country are "like you're waking up to a nightmare."

Reed, who just was released from Russian custody as part of a prisoner swap in April, asked for a sense of urgency in the Griner case at a rally organized by Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee in the hooper's Houston hometown on Monday.

"We need to all speak out for these Americans, because every single one of us is an American," Reed said. "Every day that you're in prison there, it's like you're waking up to a nightmare."

Reed said he believes it's pointless to let Griner's case play out in the court systems in the foreign country ... explaining, "There is no justice in Russia."

"Brittney and Paul [Whelan] will not receive justice in Russia," he said. "They will not receive a fair trial in Russia.”

Griner has been in custody since mid-February -- when Russian authorities claimed she tried to smuggle hashish oil into the country.

Reed said at the rally what she is going through is inhumane ... explaining the conditions that he experienced while in Russian custody included rotten food and lack of adequate medical care.

Griner has another court hearing in Russia slated for later this month ... but Reed said at the rally he's not optimistic it'll lead to anything positive for the 31-year-old Phoenix Mercury center.

"They will be there as hostages until the United States gets them out," he said.

Val ChmerkovskiyPlease Support Ukraine If You Can... I Get We're All Struggling

KEEP SENDING SUPPORT
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Val Chmerkovskiy knows there's a lot going on outside of the crisis in Ukraine ... and he's asking people to do what they can to support his home, while understanding it's not easy.

We got the "Dancing With the Stars" pro at LAX and asked him if he's noticing any Ukraine war fatigue among Americans who raced to help Ukrainians stand up to Vladimir Putin's invasion.

The war's been raging for a few months now, and Val says it's hard for people to stay focused on supporting Ukraine relief efforts ... given all the turmoil and daily struggles that most folks here are dealing with.

Val's got his own foundation building homes for refugees over in Europe ... and he says it's sometimes even hard for him to reach out to his own supporters to rally around Ukraine.

It's an interesting perspective from Val ... he's thankful for all the support so far, and the pledges going forward, but knows lots of folks are struggling to keep their heads above water and understands it's not realistic for everyone to put all their focus on Ukraine.

RELIEVED, YET FURIOUS
LionsShareNews / BACKGRID

Val's brother, Maksim Chmerkovskiy, famously escaped Ukraine as the war was breaking out ... documenting his harrowing journey back to his wife Peta Murgatroyd in America ... and Val tells us how his brother's experience and the death of Ukrainian boxing champOleg Prudky make him feel about the war.

Ukrainian Boxer Oleg PrudkyChamp Killed In War With Russia

Oleg Prudky -- a two-time Ukrainian boxing champion -- was killed while defending his country against Russian troops, the Ukrainian Boxing Federation announced on Monday.

He was just 30 years old.

"It is with sorrow that we inform you that the master of sports of international boxing class, the champion of Ukraine Oleg Prudky, was killed in the fights with Russian occupiers," the Ukrainian Boxing Federation said in a statement on its Instagram page.

"Boxing Federation of Ukraine expresses condolences to the boxer's family. Eternal memory to you Olezh."

Prudky was working with the Cherkasy Police special forces and was one of the four officers that were killed during an attack on Sunday, police said in a statement to talkSPORT on Tuesday.

"On May 22, defending the state sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, our colleagues, police officers of the Special Operations Department of the KORD Department of the Main Directorate of the National Police, were killed," the police said.

"They defended Ukraine – the dead police heroes of Cherkasy region."

Before joining the forces to defend his country, Prudky boxed in amateur and semi-pro leagues and competed in several European championships.

The super-lightweight became a two-time amateur champion and was part of the Ukrainian Otamans team in the World Series of Boxing semi-pro competition.

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Prudky leaves behind a wife, Mariana, and two daughters. His wife tragically wrote on Instagram following his death, "How do I tell them that they will never see you again."

"You are my ANGEL! I LOVE YOU SO MUCH"

RIP

Ex-Laker Slava MedvedenkoFighting Russian Troops In Ukraine... w/ AK-47 & Binoculars

2x Lakers champ Slava Medvedenko -- Kobe Bryantand Shaquille O'Neal's former teammate in Los Angeles -- is doing everything in his power to protect his home country of Ukraine against Russian forces ... including picking up an AK-47.

Medvedenko, who spent 7 seasons in the NBA and won two championships ('01,'02) with Mamba in L.A., grew up in Ukraine and took up arms to help defend his country.

The 43-year-old has been involved in the war almost since the first day Vladimir Putin ordered his military to invade the sovereign country ... sparking one of the most violent conflicts in recent history.

Slava provided The Athletic with a very detailed account of what life is like for him as he protects the tallest building in Kyiv -- the neighborhood he lives in with his wife and kids.

The former power forward, who had no military experience prior to joining the war, told the outlet things are typically quiet during the day, but fighting intensifies during the nighttime.

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Equipped with binoculars and a Russian-made Kalashnikov (AK-47), Medvedenko recalled a night when he watched Russian forces fire more than 20 missiles ... in an attempt to eliminate Ukraine's radar system.

Of course, the professional hooper, who played alongside one of the most potent 1-2 combos in NBA history (Shaq and Kobe) never envisioned he'd be in the middle of such a dangerous war.

β€œCan you imagine?” Medvedenko said. β€œYou’re just sitting at a checkpoint and you see a big f***ing rocket just fly over you?” he told The Athletic.

Although fighting seems to have quieted down in Kyiv (at least for the time being) where Slava spends a majority of time ... the near 7-footer is turning his attention to relief efforts for those who've been affected.

The 2-time NBA champ is committed to building a charitable foundation with the aim of helping Ukrainian children, and delivering food to areas hit by Russian forces.

Ric FlairI Was Medically Cleared By Doctors... Ahead Of Final Match

READY TO RUMBLE
TMZSports.com

73-year-old Ric Flair is returning to the ring as a wrestler for the last time -- just years after cheating death following a medical emergency in 2019 -- something Nature Boy tells us wouldn't be happening if he wasn't cleared by his doctor.

"I don't have any aches or pains. I know I've had the health issues, but I asked 40 different doctors, and I decided I'm only gonna listen to one. Not necessarily the one that was gonna give me the right answer, but that I felt the most comfortable with," Naitch told Babcock and Mojoon the "TMZ Sports" TV show (weekdays on FS1).

Ric says the physician gave him a clean bill of health, paving the way for him to return to the ring on July 31 in Nashville, TN ... under Jim Crockett Promotions.

Naitch and his team are still looking for an opponent ... something they expect to be squared away over the next few days.

Question is, why is the 16x world champ -- an immortal figure in the sport -- wrestling again?

Ric tells us he just wasn't happy with his last few performances ... and knows he can be better.

"I couldn't stand the last couple of matches I had. Couldn't stand the last year I had," Flair, who last wrestled against Sting in 2011, told us.

STILL GOT IT
Instagram / @ricflairnatureboy

Flair says he's been training with Rob MacIntyre from John Cena's gym (as well as with Jay Lethal) ... and the fitness guru has been pushing him hard.

"I needed someone to motivate me. And, what motivates me is doing something I like to do, and that's wrestle."

Nature Boy admits he'll never be the exact guy he was in his 30s, 40s, and 50s, but he'll be pretty damn close.

"I'll never run at 100% again. But, I'll be running at 80, 85%."

And, let's face it ... just wrestling into your 70s is pretty damn impressive. Factor in decades of wrecking your body in the ring, a plane crash in 1975, and a near-death medical emergency in 2019, and it's nothing short of incredible that Naitch is about to kick ass in the ring.

Woooooooooo!!

MAKING A DIFFERENCE
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We also talked to Ric and Wendy Barlow about her humanitarian trip to Ukraine.

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Wendy spent time helping many people in need in the war-torn nation.

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