Phoenix Mercury star Brittney Griner is back in the U.S. after almost 10 months of detainment in Russia — a relief to many Arizonans who have been advocating for her release.
Russian authorities charged her with drug possession and smuggling earlier this year after they said they found a vape cartridge with hashish oil in her luggage. Griner plays for a Russian team during the WNBA offseason.
Why it matters: Griner was arrested in February as Russia was preparing to invade Ukraine. The U.S. State Department argued she was “wrongfully detained.“
Federal officials have indicated that they believe her arrest was retaliation for the U.S. support of Ukraine.
What happened: The U.S. freed convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout in a prisoner swap that took place in the United Arab Emirates, Axios’ Ivana Saric reports.
“Through multiple, multiple engagements, the Russians made clear that the only route to securing Brittney’s return” was Bout’s release, a senior administration official said.
What they’re saying: Hours after the White House’s announcement, Governor-elect Katie Hobbs tweeted, “Brittney Griner is coming home. Today is a good day.”
Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego tweeted: “Our superstar is coming home!”
“Phoenix fans are ready to welcome you home,” Phoenix council member Yassamin Ansari tweeted.
U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosispecifically credited U.S. Rep. Greg Stanton, Biden (D-Ariz.) and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, for their work in helping to free Griner.
Meanwhile, Griner’s teammates also celebrated the return of their star center, team leader and “sister.”
“Miraculously, mercifully, the count of days detained has ended at 294 and our friend, our sister, is headed back home where she belongs,” the Mercury and Suns organizations said in a joint statement.
Forward Brianna Turner tweeted: “Thank you to every single person that kept Brittney Griner’s name alive.”
Suns stars Deandre Ayton and Chris Paul posted the news on Twitter with a praying emoji.
What’s next: WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert said Thursday that she didn’t want to rush Griner into making a decision on returning to the WNBA, saying she would give her time to readjust, The Arizona Republic reported.
In a press conference, President Biden said Griner “deserves space, privacy and time with her loved ones to heal from her time being wrongfully detained.”
Of note: Griner’s wife Cherelle told reporters that, “BG and I will remain committed to the work of getting every American home,” and specifically called out Paul Whelan, a Marine Corps veteran who remains detained in Russia.
“Today, my family is whole, but as you all are aware there are so many other families that are not whole.”