Washington (AFP) – US basketball star Brittney Griner said Friday in her first remarks since being released from a Russian prison that it was “so good to be home” and vowed to play again for the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury.
The 32-year-old Griner, in an Instagram post, thanked a long list of people for securing her release with a “special thank you” to President Joe Biden.
“It feels so good to be home!” Griner said. “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.”
A two-time Olympic gold medalist, WNBA champion and LGBTQ trailblazer, Griner was arrested on drug charges at a Moscow airport in February, against a backdrop of soaring tensions over Ukraine.
Griner — who was swapped last week for Viktor Bout, a notorious Russian arms dealer — said she would do what she can to help secure the release of Paul Whelan, another American held in Russia.
“President Biden, you brought me home and I know you are committed to bringing Paul Whelan and all Americans home too,” she said. “I will use my platform to do whatever I can to help you. Every family deserves to be whole.”
Griner also said she planned to be back on the court.
“I also want to make one thing very clear: I intend to play basketball for the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury this season,” she said.
The 2023 WNBA season begins in May. Griner’s Mercury are scheduled to play their first game against the Los Angeles Sparks on May 19.
Home for the holidays
Griner was taken to a US Army base in Texas for a medical checkup after being swapped in Abu Dhabi for Bout, an arms dealer known as the “Merchant of Death” who had been serving a 25-year sentence in a US prison.
It was not immediately clear from Griner’s Instagram if she had already left the military base, but she said she would be “home to enjoy the holidays with my family.”
Her Instagram post was accompanied by a picture of Griner stepping off a plane on US soil and another of her embracing her wife, Cherelle Griner.
At the time of her arrest, Griner had been playing for a professional team in Russia, as a number of WNBA players do in the off-season.
She was accused of possessing vape cartridges with a small quantity of cannabis oil and sentenced in August to nine years in prison.
She pleaded guilty to the charges against her, but said she did not intend to break the law or use the banned substance in Russia.
Griner testified that she had permission from a US doctor to use medicinal cannabis to relieve pain from her many injuries.
The use of medical marijuana is not allowed in Russia.