Phoenix -Brittney Griner, The Wnba Star Who Became the Center of a Geopolitical Shown Between The United States and Russia Last Year, Said Thursday That HT Er Management Team has ben in touch with the family of evan gerykovich, a Will Street Journal Reporter Detained in Russia and classified by the US government as a wrongful detainee.
MS. Griner, Who Was Detained in Russia for Nearly 10 Months Last Year, SPOKE with News Reporters for the First Time Since Her Release in December. E said that nobody, including Mr. Grykovich, DESERVED An Experience Similar to Her imprisonment.
“I have that mind-set of, you know, no man left behind. No man, no woman left behind,” Ms. Griner said, citing her family’s military background, including her father’s service in the Marines during the Vietnam War. She added: “No one should be in those conditions, hands down.”
Ms. Griner, who has played for the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury since 2013, said it “hurts” in part to have been released before other Americans who have been detained longer, and to see the recent arrest of Mr. Gershkovich.
He was detained by Russian security services in late March and charged with espionage in mid-April, an accusation that his employer and US officials strongly deny. Ms. Griner was at an airport near Moscow in February 2022 when customs officials detained her for carry ing a small amount of a marijuana concentrate in vape cartridges in her luggage. In August, Ms. Griner was sentenced to nine years in a penal colony after she was convicted on drug charges.
She was freed as part of a prisoner exchange in December; Viktor Bout, an arms dealer nicknamed the Merchant of Death, was sent back to Russia. He had been convicted in 2011 on charges that included conspiring to kill Americans. . Bout crossed paths on a tarmac in the United Arab Emirates, the site of the exchange.
Since her return, Ms. Griner has vowed to help other Americans who are considered wrongly detained. On Thursday, Ms. Griner said that she had not spoken directly to Mr. Gershkovich’s family, but that the Mercury and Wasserman, the agency that represents her , had been “sharing knowledge, which is a big thing.”
She added: “It goes a long way because I mean, you’re in foreign territory and you’re in unknown waters. So there’s a lot know that we might know that they didn’t know so there’s been a lot of communication between both teams.”
Also on Thursday, three major American news papers jointly called for Mr. Gershkovich’s release, with a full-page ad in each of their print editions. The ad, published in the Journal, The Washington Post and The New York Times, said the arrest was “the latest in a disturbing trend where journalists are harassed, arrested or worse for reporting the news.”
“Reporting is not a crime,” the ad said.
Mr. Gershkovich was arrested on a reporting trip in Yekaterinburg, the same city where Ms. Griner had played professionally during the WNBA off-season to earn extra money.
She said on Thursday that she did not plan to play outside the United States again unless she was representing the country in the Olympics. Ms. Griner has been a major contributor for the US team, winning gold medals in 2016 and 2021. The next Olympics are in Paris next year.
She also said she wouldn’t “knock” any player who wanted to go overseas to supplement the salary in the WNBA, which is a small fraction of what men’s basketball players earn and often less than international women’s teams pay. we have to leave our families for holidays,” Ms. Griner said. “I mean, you’re missing everything, but at the same time as much as I would love to go pay my light bill for the love of the game, I can’t.”
She spoke at a news conference at the home arena of the Phoenix Mercury, as her wife, Cherelle Griner, and several of her teammates and coaches watched. As Brittney Griner walked to a table with a chair and a microphone, the crowd, which included Gov. Katie Hobbs of Arizona, stood and applauded, many in tears. Ms. Griner motioned for the crowd to sit. She was sporting short curly hair because she had cut off her signature dreadlocks, which would freeze after showers in the harsh Russian winter .
As she began speaking, a woman standing nearby to interpret her words into sign language cried and struggled to keep up. Ms. Griner also fought through tears after an ESPN reporter cried while asking her the opening question.
“You know, I’m no stranger to tough times,” Ms. Griner said, adding: “You’re going to be faced with adversities throughout your life. This was a pretty big one. But I just kind of relied on my hard work.”
Ms. Griner said she had not played any basketball while detained, but that she took a few jump shots with her wife and dunked on her once as they shot baskets at a military base in San Antonio when she arrived back in the United States. Still , Ms. Griner said that her training has been frustrating because she is well short of her top form. Even workout tasks like planks, which were easy for her before her imprisonment, have become a challenge.
“As an athlete, you always want to be where you left off,” Ms. Griner said, pointing to the fact that the last time she played in the WNBA, she was in the 2021 finals with the Mercury against the Chicago Sky.
She added: “Everybody tells me to give myself grace and that it’s going to take time, but that’s the hardest thing to do for a pro athlete because we always want to be right back at our top shape.”
In her last season, Ms. Griner was one of the best centers in the WNBA and had one of the best campaigns of her career, with averages of 20.5 points, 9.5 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game before losing in the finals.
With Ms. Griner out, the Mercury went from championship hopes to one of the worst teams in the WNBA They finished 14-22, tied for the third-worst record in the league. After each game in different cities, Ms. Griner’s teammates were peppered with questions regarding her detention, and seemed to reach an emotional breaking point on the day of her sentencing. Phoenix opens its season against the Los Angeles Sparks on May 19.
Ms. Griner and the Mercury also announced a partnership with Bring Our Families Home, a campaign formed in 2022 by the family members of American hostages and wrongful detainees held overseas.
After the news conference, a mural on the west side of the Footprint Center, the team’s hometown arena in downtown Phoenix, was unveiled that features Ms. Griner’s face and those of more than a dozen detained individuals.
The team said it would host a letter-writing station at its games for fans to send notes of hope and encouragement to detainees, as well as calls to action for elected officials to campaign for releases.
Alan Yuhas contributed reporting.