After being ‘wrongfully detained’ and spending nearly 10 months in Russian detention, Brittney Griner finally landed on United States’ soil and returned home to her family on Friday, December 9th. In total, she spent 294 days in detention as a result of her nine-year sentence for allegedly smuggling marijuana.
Griner was arrested at the Sheremetyevo International Airport in Moscow back in February. At the time, Russian officials found marijuana concentrate (cannabis oil) cartridges in her bag. She pleaded guilty in July and received a nine-year sentence in August – at which point she was transferred to a penal colony.
Despite the ongoing tension between the United States and Russia – largely due to the Russian’s invasion of Ukraine, which began around the same time as Griner’s arrest – Joe Biden agreed to free a former Soviet Army lieutenant colonel, Viktor Bout, as part of the prisoner exchange with Vladimir Putin.
Sports World Reacts to Brittney Griner Returning Home
Upon her arrival on US soil, White House officials confirmed that Brittney Griner was in good spirits and appeared to be in good health. Like other prisoners who return home, such as Trevor Reed, she was given specialized medical services and counseling to ensure a smooth transition back into society.
“This is a day we’ve worked toward for a long time. We never stopped pushing for her release. It took painstaking and intense negotiations, and I want to thank all the hardworking public servants across my administration who worked tirelessly to secure her release,” said President Joe Biden of the homecoming.
For the past 10 months, family, friends, fans, and others in the basketball community haven’t stopped saying the name Brittney Griner as America vowed not to forget about her. Now 10 months later, the sports world is reacting to the news of her release as America celebrates her return to Phoenix.
15. USA Basketball
Brittney Griner first played for USA Basketball as a 22-year-old in 2012, but couldn’t compete in the Olympics that year due to a family illness. She did, however, appear in the 2016 and 2020 Olympics, as well as the 2014 and 2018 World Cups, for Team USA – helping the team to a gold medal at each one.
In a statement posted to Twitter, USA Basketball praised Griner’s ‘bravery and resolve over the last nearly 300 days.’ They expressed how relieved they are to learn of her coming home, grateful they are to the US government and others who worked behind the scenes, and hopeful that Paul Whelan comes home soon.
14. Chiney Ogwumike
Chiney Ogwumike is a fellow WNBA player for the Los Angeles Sparks, basketball analyst and co-host for ESPN, and current Vice-President of the WNBA Players Association. Her voice matters and she has taken every opportunity to advocate for Brittney Griner – using her platform to inform and educate others.
“The best news to start our day with: finally, our sister BG is coming home!! So grateful for all those who tirelessly worked to make this happen. Welcome home, Brittney!!!!” said Chiney on Twitter. In a separate tweet, she showed her support for Paul Whelan and loved how Cherelle said her family was now whole.
13. Sophie Cunningham
Sophie Cunningham was drafted by the Phoenix Mercury with the first pick of the second round in 2019. She was teammates with Brittney Griner for three seasons before her arrest and detainment. She had the best season of her career in 2022, so it would be awesome to see the two reunite on the Mercury soon.
“Our sister BG is home🏼 all praise to God! time to keep praying and fighting for other Americans being wrongfully imprisoned…. the fight isn’t over but we are thankful!” said Cunningham on Twitter. She then clapped back at a user with a comment after they tried to suggest she wasn’t advocating for Paul Whelan.
12. Billie Jean King
Billie Jean King is one of the biggest voices in all of sports, especially when it comes to gender equality and women’s rights. The 12-time major tennis champion hasn’t stopped saying Brittney Griner’s name since learning of her detainment and was quick to issue a reaction on Twitter once learning of the news.
“Brittney Griner is free! After 294 days in Russian captivity, @POTUS negotiated a “one-for-one” prisoner swap. Thank you to President Biden, and to all those who worked so hard to secure her freedom,” said Billie Jean King on Twitter. As expected, users in the comments section had mixed emotions and feelings.
11. Robert Griffin III
Robert Griffin III, also known as RGIII, is a former NFL quarterback and current NFL analyst for ESPN. Much like Brittney Griner, RGIII was a standout athlete at Baylor University. He played men’s college football between 2008 and 2011, while Griner played women’s basketball between 2009 and 2013.
On Twitter, he wants everyone to Twitter, but not at the expense of Paul Whelan – who remains jailed in Russia as we speak. “Celebrate Brittney Griner coming home to her family and now let’s get Marine Paul Whelan home too,” he wrote. It’s a message that was echoed by many others in the sports community.
10. Phoenix Mercury
The Phoenix Mercury drafted Brittney Griner with the No. 1 overall pick in 2013 and she has played her entire nine-year career with the team. In 254 games played, Griner is averaging 17.7 points, 7.6 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 0.5 steals, and 2.8 blocks per game. She’s one of the greatest players of all-time.
“No more days. She’s coming home,” the team said on their official Twitter account, sharing a photo of BG in uniform. As of right now, there’s no indication on whether or not BG will continue her WNBA career, but the Mercury would love to have her back whenever she’s ready. They were just 15=21 last season.
9. Shey Peddy
Shey Peddy joined the Phoenix Mercury midway through the 2020 season and was teammates with Brittney Griner for 1.5 seasons leading up to BG’s arrest. Her role with the team has increased since BG left, with Peddy having the best season of her career last year in BG’s absence. She’s happy BG is home.
“Went from FREE BG to BG is FREE!! Won’t he do it! 🙌🏾” she posted on Twitter. “It’s sad to see how hateful and ignorant people have been over BG’s release today. But let me save y’all some time and unnecessary energy. Regardless of what you think, BG IS HOME,” she said in a second tweet.
8. Steve Kerr
Steve Kerr, head coach of the Golden State Warriors, took the time to share a heartfelt message to Brittney Griner and her family on the team’s official Twitter account. “Brittney, I just want to tell you on behalf of the entire Warriors’ organization we are so thrilled for you and your family,” said the coach.
“We can’t imagine what you’ve been through [this past year]. Unbelievable perseverance that you’ve shown just to make it through your time in Russia and we’re so happy you’re coming home,” he said in the near-minute long video. He also thanked the WNBA and NBA communities for the support they’ve shown.
The WNBA has been one of Brittney Griner’s homes for the past nine years. She has been one of the most dominant players on the floor since entering the league in 2013. Whether she decides to retire or continue her career in the WNBA, she’s a future Hall of Famer and will go down as one of the greatest.
After 294 days of tireless work… Our friend, sister, loved one, Brittney Griner is FREE. We love you BG 🧡” the WNBA wrote on their official Twitter account. They later posted a photo of all the different reactions around the league. From day 1 to day 294, we never forgot about you BG,” the WNBA wrote.
6. Rebecca Lobo
Rebecca Lobo is a former WNBA player and current ESPN analyst who covers the WNBA, college women’s basketball, and the NBA. She spent six seasons in the WNBA between 1997 and 2003 – averaging 6.7 points, 4.1 rebounds, 1.0 assists, and 0.9 blocks per game in 121 games played.
“Cherelle Griner has been incredible throughout this ordeal. She continues to speak eloquently on behalf of BG and others who are wrongfully detained in Russia,” said Lobo on Twitter, praising BG’s wife for using her voice and platform for the greater good over the past 10 months. Cherelle’s hard work paid off.
5. Jonquel Jones
Jonquel Jones is a WNBA player who currently plays for the Connecticut Sun – she’s one of the best forwards in the league and was named MVP just two seasons ago. She was also a teammate of Brittney Griner in the Russian Women’s Basketball Premier League, having both played for UMMC Ekaterinburg.
“How bout Christmas miracles! God Is good! I’m so happy right now! BG free!!!! 🙌🏾😊” wrote Jonquel Jones on her Twitter. Watching Griner and Jones battle it out on the court was always a joy to watch. One can only hope that we’ll get to see it again, but that’s a decision for Brittney and the Griner family to make.
4. Adam Silver
Adam Silver is the current commissioner of the NBA – a role he has held since 2014, though he originally began with the NBA in 1992. He was also the league’s deputy commissioner and chief operating officer before taking over as commissioner when David Stern retired. He’s one of the best commissioners in all of sports.
“Brittney has had to endure an unimaginable situation and we’re thrilled that she is on her way home to her family and friends. We thank the members of the NBA and WNBA community who never wavered in their efforts to raise awareness of Brittney’s unjust circumstances,” said Silver in a recent statement.
3. Cathy Engelbert
Cathy Engelbert is the current commissioner of the WNBA – a role she has held since 2019. She’s technically the first commissioner of the WNBA, with previous leaders being titled ‘President.’ She was also the first ever female CEO of Deloitte, a company she was with for more than three decades.
“There has not been a day over the past ten months where we all haven’t had Brittney Griner on our minds and in our hearts and that has now turned into a collective wave of joy and relief knowing that she will soon be reunited with her family, the WNBA player community, and her friends,” she said on Twitter.
2. Baylor University
After playing varsity basketball and volleyball at Nimitz High School, Brittney Griner began her college basketball career at Baylor University. She played four seasons for the Bears and averaged 22.2 points, 8.8 rebounds, 1.6 assists, and 5.1 blocks per game. Her 223 blocks in a season and 748 career blocks are all-time records.
“Brittney Griner is a member of our Baylor Family, and we are extremely grateful that she is on her way back home to the United States. We praise God this day has finally come,” said Baylor President Linda Livingstone and Director of Athletics Mack Rhoades. “Our hearts go out to Brittney and her family.”
1. Brianna Turner
Brianna Turner was a first round draft pick of the Phoenix Mercury in 2019 and was teammates with Brittney Griner for three seasons before her arrest and detainment earlier this year. Turner has been a full-time starter since 2020 and averages 5.7 points, 7.3 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.2 steals, and 1.6 blocks.
She posted a series of Tweets regarding the news of Griner’s release. “You can be supportive of Brittney Griner’s release without talking down on Paul Whelan. You can also be supportive of releasing Paul Whelan without talking down on Brittney Griner. You don’t have to support one or the other. You can actually support both,” she wrote in one tweet.
What’s Next for Brittney Griner?
As news of her release settles in and she begins the process of healing and recovering, the future of Brittney Griner remains uncertain. She has yet to confirm or deny her return to the WNBA, but that’s the last thing she’s thinking about right now. Nonetheless, she did make her return to the court on Sunday.
According to ESPN, Brittney Griner took to the basketball court on Sunday for the first time in 10 months. Wearing Chuck Taylor sneakers, Phoenix Mercury shorts, and a Title IX shirt, she underwent a light workout and reports are saying her first move on the court was a slam dunk – a relieving one, at that.
With that said, we’d be remiss to not mention Paul Whelan – a former United States’ Marine who has been ‘wrongfully detained’ on suspicion of espionage (spying) since 2018. Despite Trevor Reed and Brittney Griner returning home this year, he remains in Russian detention. Don’t stop saying his name.
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