Brittney Griner gets emotional discussing Russian detainment

Brittney Griner said she's done playing overseas during her first news conference since being released from a Russian prison in December.
Published: Apr. 27, 2023 at 10:53 AM CDT|Updated: Apr. 27, 2023 at 6:07 PM CDT
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -- For the first time Thursday morning, Brittney Griner talked publicly about her return to the Phoenix Mercury. This comes ahead of her first season back on the court after she spent nearly 10 months in a Russian prison.

It is the first time the public is hearing from Griner. We have also learned she’s working on a memoir about her time in Russia that’s set to be out next year. It’s an experience she calls “unfathomable.”

Griner told reporters that she has no plans to return to play overseas in the off-season, except if the opportunity to participate in the Olympics arises again. “I’m never playing overseas again,” the two-time Olympic gold medalist said. “The only time I would want to would be to represent the USA.”

Meantime, Monica Rogers, the assistant general manager of the Mercury, says the team has immense energy about it right now as they have been preparing for months. “I think everyone is just really happy to see her (Griner) every day. Throughout all of the offseason and her working out, it’s just been a pleasure. I think everyone is not taking for granted that she’s in the building. I think she loves the game of basketball, and you can see that with every action and motion that she takes.”

While the team said that she couldn’t reveal details surrounding her arrest, Griner explained that during those 10 months detained, thinking of her family and her wife Cherelle kept her motivated. “Just being able to see their faces, that did it for me,” she said. “The moment where you kind of want to give up, you look at the photos, and it kind of brings you back to what you’re waiting on. You’re waiting to be back with your families, with your loved ones in a safe place.”

Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs, Griner’s wife, and members of the Mercury organization gave the WNBA star a standing ovation as she appeared from behind a banner and climbed onto the riser. “Different than a basketball press conference today,” said Griner, her eyes beaming and a huge smile. “A LOT of media in here today.”

Griner has kept a low profile following her return to the U.S. while adjusting to life back home, outside of appearances at the Super Bowl, the PGA Tour’s Phoenix Open, and an MLK Day event in Phoenix.

She gained international attention in February 2022 when she was arrested after Russian authorities said a search of her luggage revealed vape cartridges containing cannabis oil. She later pleaded guilty and was sentenced to nine years in prison. After months of negotiations between Washington and Moscow, Griner was exchanged in the United Arab Emirates for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout on Dec. 8.

Griner said her team has been in touch with the family of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, who’s being detained in Russia on espionage charges. “No one should be in any of the conditions that I went through or they’re going through,” she said.

A mural was also unveiled at the Footprint Center. It features Griner and other detained prisoners overseas, including Paul Whelan. It includes the hashtag “Bring Our Families Home.” Neda Sharghi, the chair of Bring Our Families Home, says the mural hits close to home. “My brother, is one of those. Amad Sharghi is on the end of the mural. He’s been wrongfully detained in Iran since 2018,” she said. “When both of his children went off to college, he decided to go back with his wife and look at the roots where his parents were born, and where he had grown up for a few years and unfortunately he was at the wrong place at the wrong time, and the Iranians decided to take him for whatever reason.”

Sharghi thanked Griner and her wife for their advocacy. “What BG and Cherelle have done is ushered a new era for families like us and wrongful detainees. We will never be ignored again, and we will never be forgotten again, and I think this collaboration with our campaign and the mercury it’s just part of that work Brittany’s in the middle of all of our detainees. We are all sort of hanging onto her and what she can do to bring them home,” she said.

The mural is displayed beside Griner and her loved ones.
The mural is displayed beside Griner and her loved ones.(Arizona's Family)

Griner announced shortly after her release that she would play in the WNBA this season and re-signed with the Mercury on a one-year deal. The seven-time WNBA All-Star and two-time league defensive player of the year started slowly and has ramped up training in preparation for the Mercury’s opening game on May 19. The Mercury home opener is May 21.