PHOENIX MERCURY

Mercury’s Brittney Griner aims to keep spotlight on detained Americans with new book

May 6, 2024, 7:41 AM

Brittney Griner...

Brittney Griner #42 and Diana Taurasi #3 of the Phoenix Mercury gather their teammates before the game against the Seattle Storm at Climate Pledge Arena on June 24, 2023 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

Brittney Griner continues her efforts to settle into a normal routine following her release from a Russian prison 17 months ago.

Life isn’t what it once was for the perennial WNBA All-Star.

The 6-foot-8 center looks different and has different priorities. Gone are her familiar dreadlocks that couldn’t be maintained during her incarceration. She regularly sees a therapist to help her cope after being imprisoned for 10 months. And since her release, Griner has been an advocate for the return of other Americans detained overseas.

She has met with President Joe Biden twice since her release, including once last month in Phoenix.

“Got to talk to him about a couple of people and just keep it on the forefront of everyone’s mind,” the Phoenix Mercury star said in a phone interview with The Associated Press. “You want to get exposure and that keeps it on the forefront of people’s minds. Keep people accountable.”

Griner was detained at a Moscow airport in February 2022. Russian authorities said a search of her luggage revealed vape cartridges containing oil derived from cannabis.

She shares details about the harrowing experience in her new book — “Coming Home” — which comes out Tuesday.

Griner hopes one takeaway for anyone who reads the book will be a vivid picture of what detainees have to endure. She said it’s why it took her all of last season to write it with Michelle Burford.

“I didn’t leave anything out from the detainment, to being over there, the conditions. As much as we could fit into a book, we basically did,” Griner said. “People will be shocked at some of the things.

“I hope it brings a little bit more of an understanding to the conditions that detainees go through.”

Griner says it is important people have a clear picture of what it’s like for those Americans not home yet, including Paul Whelan and Evan Gershkovich, so that no one gives up the fight.

“It took everyone to come together to bring me home,” she said. Government officials “have to make really hard decisions.”

Griner, who first met President Biden at the White House Correspondent’s dinner in 2023 a few months after her return to the U.S., said she and her WNBA teammates must keep the momentum going to get everyone home.

“How are we going to do it? Bringing in families, playing videos, give them airtime?” she said. “Maybe someone that doesn’t know, sees (the book) and they write a letter to Congress that tips over the scale to get someone home.”

Brittney Griner done playing overseas

Griner said her days of playing basketball overseas during the WNBA offseason are over.

Though many WNBA players still play in international leagues to supplement their league salaries, Griner said she is done, except with USA Basketball. She hopes to be on the Olympic team at the Paris Games this summer, and the odds are in her favor that will happen.

Griner had played in China for a few years during the WNBA offseason, before making the move to Russia — where she had played since 2015 before her arrest.

It’s not just her ordeal in Russia, however, that is going to keep her home. Griner’s wife, Cherelle, is expecting the couple’s first child.

“The only time I’ll go overseas is with Team USA,” Griner said. “I need to be in the states. About to be a parent. Last thing I want to do is be in and out of my kid’s life. I want to be there for everything. I don’t want to uproot my family and take them overseas with me. It’s too much.”

Griner, who has been an advocate for mental health for the past decade, said she sees a therapist regularly — something she did for several years before she went to Russia — and it helps her process what she endured while in prison.

“They are instrumental to my mental health,” Griner said about her sessions. “Everyone can benefit from having someone to talk to. Someone outside of their every day life. It just helps to have a different perspective on life from someone.

“That way if you do feel nervous or struggling with something, it’s very beneficial.”

The 33-year-old took a mental health break for several days last year during the WNBA season, missing three games. She’ll begin her 12th year in the league May 14.

Griner is looking forward to it after the welcome she received in her return last year. One of the only positives that Griner will take away from her ordeal was the outpouring of support she received from people in the form of letters they wrote to her in prison.

“The letters were amazing from the fans, teammates, opponents, GMs, they all meant so much to me,” she said. “It was very dark at times, especially going through the trial. When I was in isolation for weeks, it was an emotional rollercoaster and those letters made me remember that I wasn’t forgotten.”

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