With WNBA camps opening this weekend, Brittney Griner held her first news conference Thursday since her release from Russian captivity.
As she told the assembled media, the trauma she experienced during her detainment has convinced her to avoid all international competition going forward — with one exception.
“I’m never going overseas again, unless I’m representing my country at the Olympics,” Griner said. “If I make that team, that’d be the only time I would leave U.S. soil, and that’s just to represent the USA.”
Brittney Griner on whether she plans to go overseas to play basketball in the future:— Khristina Williams (@Khristina) April 27, 2023
“I’m never going overseas to play again unless I’m representing my country at the Olympics.” pic.twitter.com/ZUI2LFi0yX
It’s a completely understandable decision after being forced to spend 10 months in a Russian penal colony. Griner had been sentenced to nine years in prison and was freed in December as part of a prisoner exchange with the United States.
As one of the WNBA’s most prominent stars, Griner used her experience to illuminate one of the problems her colleagues face in their business dealings with the league.
“The whole reason a lot of us go [abroad] is the pay gap…to support our families, to support ourselves. So I don’t knock any player that wants to go overseas,” she said. “I’m hoping that our league continues to grow. I hope a lot [more] companies start to invest in our craft.”
The implication was clear: if Griner had been paid what she was worth by WNBA ownership, she wouldn’t have had to play abroad during the offseason and put herself at risk.
While her vow to avoid international competition understandably grabbed the headlines, Griner also used the occasion to express her appreciation for the support she received from her family, fans, team, and President Joe Biden’s administration — all of whom were determined to secure her freedom.
She began the press conference by asking those assembled to give a round of applause to her wife, Cherelle. After the emotional moment, Griner told the media that familial bonds were key to maintaining her resolve during some of her lowest points.
“When I did lose my hope, looking at photos of my family brought my hope back. You’re wanting to be back with your family, your loved ones, in a safe place,” she said.
Reflecting on this life-changing experience, Griner and the Phoenix Mercury used the occasion to announce a partnership with Bring Our Families Home, an advocacy group dedicated to securing the release of other Americans unlawfully detained abroad.
While she admitted she’s not yet where she wants to be athletically, Griner promised to continue ramping up her game in preparation for the 2023 season. The Mercury will open their new campaign in Los Angeles May 19 and play their first home game two nights later.
Griner’s return to the court promises to be one of the must-see events on the sports calendar.