As Brittney Griner prepares for her first WNBA game since 2021, she held a press conference Thursday, speaking publicly for the first time since being imprisoned in Russia for 10 months for carrying cannabis oil vape cartridges through a Moscow airport.
It was an emotional news conference for Griner, who welled up as a reporter tearfully asked what kind of “resilience” Griner relied upon.
“See, you cry and now you made me cry,” Griner joked in response.
“I’m no stranger to hard times,” she continued. “Just digging deep, honestly. You’re gonna be faced with adversities throughout your life. This was a pretty big one. But I just, kind of, relied on my hard work, getting through it. I know this sounds so small, but dying in practice and just hard workouts—you find a way to just grind it out, just put your head down and keep going.”
The seven-time All-Star, who plays center for the Phoenix Mercury, shared how she coped with being locked up for the better part of 2022 until her release in December.
“When I did lose my hope, looking at photos of my family, that brought my hope back,” Griner said. “Just being able to see their faces, that did it for me. In a moment where you want to give up, you look at the photos and it brings you back. You know what you’re waiting on—you’re waiting to be back with your family, with your loved ones in a safe place.”
Griner was part of a prisoner swap between the United States and Russia, which saw the former WNBA champ sent home to Texas in exchange for the release of Viktor Bout, an infamous Russian arms dealer who was being held in United States Penitentiary in Marion. The New York Times reported that Bout was likely the highest profile Russian in U.S. custody prior to his release.
Prior to her arrest, Griner was playing basketball with the Russian Premier League during the WNBA off-season. She said the whole ordeal soured the notion of international play for her.
“I’m never going overseas to play again unless I’m representing my country at the Olympics,” she said.
Four other Americans remain detained in Russia, including Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, who was arrested for espionage on March 29, and Paul Whelan, who has been imprisoned for more than four years for espionage.
Griner said her team and her agent “have been in touch with [Gershkovich’s] family a lot,” and urged him and Whelan to “stay strong” and “keep fighting.”
“I’m not going to stop bringing awareness to everyone that’s left behind right now,” she said.
Griner said her focus is also on getting back to playing form, with the Phoenix Mercury’s preseason opener less than two weeks away. It’s been an adjustment, she said, having to go from the routine of a detainee in Russia to that of an elite athlete in just a few months.
“It’s still a process, you know, just the little things,” she said. “Because as an athlete, you always want to be where you left off… And I wanted to be that player when I started back. Everybody is telling me to give myself grace, and it’s going to take time. But that’s the hardest thing to do to a pro athlete.”
The Mercury will play the Seattle Storm on May 9 in Phoenix’s first preseason game. Griner, referencing the massive media turnout to her press conference, said she expects “to see the same coverage” for the team’s games.
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If ‘she’ ain’t a ‘he’ she didn’t miss it by much; and I’m still curious about the hint of an Adam’s Apple. What’s up with that to show she’ at least part manly?