Brittney Griner said she’s “grateful” to be back in the United States and plans on playing basketball again next season for the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury. Her comments came a week after she was released from a Russian prison, freed in a dramatic high-level prisoner exchange.
“It feels so good to be home!” Griner posted to Instagram on Friday in her first public statement since her release. “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.”
Griner was arrested in February in Russia on drug-related charges and was later convicted and sentenced to nine years in a Russian jail. After months of strained negotiations, and an extraordinarily rare public revelation by the Biden administration that it had made a “substantial proposal” to bring home Griner and another detained American, Paul Whelan, the case resolved last week with a prisoner swap in which the WNBA star was exchanged in the United Arab Emirates for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.
“President Biden, you brought me home and I know you are committed to bringing Paul Whelan and all Americans home too,” Griner said. “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.”
Whelan’s brother David said last week in a statement that he was “so glad” for Griner’s release but also disappointed for his family. He credited the White House with giving the Whelan family advance notice and said he did not fault officials for making the deal.
“The Biden administration made the right decision to bring Ms. Griner home, and to make the deal that was possible, rather than waiting for one that wasn’t going to happen,” he said.
Griner also thanked the military staff and medical team in Texas, where she was receiving care after returning to the U.S. last week. She wrote that she would “transition home to enjoy the holidays with my family” but did not say where.
While WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said she was going to give Griner all the time she needed to decide whether she wanted to play basketball again, Griner made it clear that: “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.”
“Amazing timing for her to be home before the holidays,” Engelbert told the AP in an interview Thursday. “It’s a great story for all who know her.”
The Mercury open the season on the road against the Los Angeles Sparks on May 19. The team’s first home game is two days later against the Chicago Sky.
By Doug Feinberg
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS