Basketball star Brittney Griner has spoken publicly for the first time after spending ten months in a Russian prison. During a press conference, she announced that she will make her comeback in May, at the start of the new season in the WNBA.
She also looked back, sometimes emotionally, on her time in captivity. Griner was arrested in Russia in February 2022 for having cannabis oil in her luggage. She was sentenced to nine years in prison.
Griner was released in December following a prisoner exchange between Russia and the United States. In the cell she had continuously hoped for such a “miracle”. In the moments when desperation was greatest, she looked at pictures of her family.
“Seeing their faces kept me going. Sometimes I wanted to give up, but when I saw my family, I knew how much I wanted to be with them again in a safe environment.” A book will be published next year in which Griner talks about the “harrowing experiences” in Russian detention.
Griner went to Russia last year in the WNBA midseason. With a few matches, top players can earn about a million euros there. She now hopes to increase payments in the women’s division of the NBA.
At the press conference, she announced that she would never travel outside North America again for a basketball game, unless it is for the national team. Griner became two-time Olympic and World champion with the US.
After she was released, Griner went through a recovery period, which is still not fully completed. A year after being detained, 32-year-old Griner touched a basketball for the first time. On an outfield in San Antonio, she threw a few balls at the basket and tried to dunk.
“Yes, I could still do it,” she laughed. “I felt like I was 16 again. All those jumps were not pleasant for my ankles after such a long time. But it was nice to play with the ball again.”
Griner recently signed a new one-year contract with Phoenix Mercury. The seven-time all-star player is back in full training. “It all went quickly. In the beginning I thought: wow, do I really want this so quickly? But it feels good.”
In addition to her basketball career, Griner will work for the Bring Our Families Home organization, which assists relatives of American hostages and prisoners abroad.
Among other things, she has contact with the family of Evan Gershkovich, a Wall Street Journal reporter who has been detained in Russia on suspicion of espionage. “No one should have to go through what happened to me.”
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