Dec 8, 2022 - News

"Our superstar is coming home." Arizonans reacts to Brittney Griner's release

A sign that says "We are BG 42."

A mural supporting Brittney Griner outside Footprint Center. Photo: Christian Petersen/Getty Images

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 Pelosi specifically 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."
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