Brittney Griner addresses freedom, says she’ll play in 2023 for Mercury
WNBA star Brittney Griner, in her first public comments written or spoken since being freed from Russian incarceration via a prisoner swap, thanked supporters who helped her through her ordeal.
She also said she plans to suit up for the Phoenix Mercury in 2023.
“It feels so good to be home!” she wrote on Instagram Friday. “The last 10 months have been a battle at every turn. I dug deep to keep my faith and it was the love from so many of you that helped keep me going. From the bottom of my heart, thank you to everyone for your help.”
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Griner thanked her wife, Cherelle Griner, as well as her agents, team president Vince Kozar and the Mercury, WNBA players and staffers, her Russian legal team and more. Griner credited United States President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of State Antony Blinken with helping secure her release.
The center also pledged to help the cause that built pressure on the United States government to free her.
She was in prison on drug charges and was detained in February for carrying vape canisters that included cannabis oil in her luggage.
“President Biden, you brought me home and I know you are committed to bringing Paul Whelan and all Americans home too,” Griner wrote of Whelan, another American detained in Russia. “I will use my platform to do whatever I can to help you.
“I also encourage everyone that played a part in bringing me home to continue their efforts to bring all Americans home. Every family deserves to be whole.”
Griner, who is a free agent, made clear she wants to return to WNBA action. The Mercury begin regular season play on May 19, 2023.
“I also want to make one thing very clear: I intend to play basketball for the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury this season, and in doing so, I look forward to being able to say ‘thank you’ to those of you who advocated, wrote, and posted for me in person soon,” she said.
Griner added in her note that she is spending the holidays with her family.
The Mercury have gone on record saying they will give the center her space and allow her to decide her future.
To free Griner, the U.S. released notorious Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.
The deal, the second such exchange in eight months with Russia, procured the release of the most prominent American detained abroad. Griner is a two-time Olympic gold medalist whose monthslong imprisonment on drug charges brought unprecedented attention to the population of wrongful detainees.
Biden’s authorization to release a Russian felon once nicknamed “the Merchant of Death” underscored the escalating pressure that his administration faced to get Griner home, particularly after the recent resolution of her criminal case and her subsequent transfer to a penal colony.
Griner pleaded guilty in July, though still faced trial because admitting guilt in Russia’s judicial system does not automatically end a case.
Griner was arrested at the Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport in February when customs officials said they found vape canisters with cannabis oil in her luggage. She pleaded guilty in July, though still faced trial because admitting guilt in Russia’s judicial system does not automatically end a case.
She acknowledged in court that she possessed the canisters, but said she had no criminal intent and said their presence in her luggage was due to hasty packing.
Before being sentenced on Aug. 4 and receiving a punishment her lawyers said was out of line for the offense, an emotional Griner apologized “for my mistake that I made and the embarrassment that I brought on them.” She added: “I hope in your ruling it does not end my life.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story.