Brittney Griner returns to the US after her arrest in Russia 0:56
Brittney Griner left a military medical center in Texas on Friday and returned home to Arizona, pledging in an Instagram post that she'll play in the WNBA this season as she takes another step toward reintegration into the league. American life after his arrest in Russia.
"It feels so good to be home. The last 10 months have been a battle at every turn," he wrote in his post.
"I had to dig deep to keep my faith and it's been the love from so many of you that has kept me going. From the bottom of my heart, thank you all for your help."
Brittney Griner hugs his wife, Cherelle Griner, as they return to the United States from Russia on Friday.
Credit: Miguel Negrón/U.S. Army South
Griner, 32, said she was "grateful to every person who advocated for me" and thanked the staff at the Texas military installation she briefly called home.
She also recalled another foreign prisoner in Russia whose release she could not secure in the prisoner exchange that she got her freedom.
"President Biden, you brought me home, and I know you are committed to bringing Paul Whelan and all Americans home, too," he said.
"I will use my platform to do everything I can to help them. I also encourage everyone who has contributed to bringing me home to continue their efforts to bring all Americans home. All families deserve to be whole."
Such was Biden's agonizing decision to accept a deal to release Brittney Griner but leave Paul Whelan in Russia
Griner intends to return to the WNBA Mercury
Griner took off from San Antonio around 11 a.m. local time this Friday, CNN confirmed through his agent Lindsay Kagawa Colas.
Boarding the plane, Griner was greeted by Jim Pitman, general manager of Mercury of Phoenix;
Vince Kozar, team president;
and Diana Taurasi, teammate.
They showed up by surprise to welcome him home.
Griner headed back to Arizona, though his representatives declined to confirm exactly where, citing security concerns.
CNN previously reported that Griner and his wife, Cherelle, had already made plans to move upon their return to the United States.
"I also want to make one thing very clear: I intend to play basketball for the WNBA Mercury this season, and in doing so, I look forward to saying 'thank you' in person to everyone who has supported, written and messaged me." Griner stated.
The two-time Olympic gold medalist was released last week in a prisoner exchange after nearly 300 days in Russian custody.
His arrest, after Russian officials found vape cartridges containing cannabis oil in his luggage, became an international case at a sensitive time in relations between Washington and Moscow.
The US authorities considered it an unfair detention.
Griner had traveled to Russia to play basketball in the WNBA offseason and was arrested on charges of drug smuggling at a Moscow region airport on February 17.
Despite her testimony that she had inadvertently packed the cannabis oil in her luggage, Griner was sentenced to nine years in prison in early August and transferred to a penal colony in the Republic of Mordovia in mid-November after losing her appeal. .
Exclusive: Paul Whelan tells CNN he's 'disappointed'
because the Biden government has not done more for his release
A delicate diplomatic dance between the United States and Russia
The Mercury player became a pawn in Russia's war in Ukraine and returned to the United States on December 9 following a prisoner swap for convicted Russian notorious arms dealer Viktor Bout.
For months a delicate diplomatic dance has unfolded between the United States and Russia, which is waging war in Ukraine.
The United States enacted sanctions in response to the conflict, while diplomats kept open lines of communication with Moscow over the prisoner negotiations.
President Joe Biden said the efforts to bring Griner home involved "deep and intense negotiations."
In a scene straight out of a spy thriller, the one-for-one prisoner exchange occurred on an Abu Dhabi airstrip on December 8.
Once on American soil, one of Griner's first moves was to dunk on a Texas basketball court, according to Colas.
Wearing a pair of black Chuck Taylors, Phoenix Suns shorts and a "Title IX" jersey, he returned to the court after a long wait.
Months ago, in custody in Russia, Griner was offered a basketball and a basket, but he refused to play, according to Colas.
Griner also cut his hair short to remove what his family and friends jokingly called his "Russian paleness."
According to Colas, during her captivity the long dreadlocks that characterized her were cut, since she continually fought against the cold because her wet hair froze.
This was the days of Brittney Griner when she was in prison in Russia 0:47
A bittersweet return
Even so, his return has been somewhat bittersweet.
Griner is heartbroken that Whelan is still being held, his agent said.
Whelan is a US, Irish, British and Canadian citizen and is incarcerated in a Russian penal colony after being arrested in December 2018 on charges of espionage, which he has denied.
He was sentenced to 16 years in prison.
Like Griner, US officials have stated that Whelan was wrongfully detained.
Griner is eager to use her power and influence to help others, especially Whelan, according to her agent.
"He's thinking about his family and has talked about his intention to call them as soon as he gets home," Colas told CNN.
"She's really committed to telling this story and making sure people know the names of this population of wrongfully detained Americans."
Griner spent a week at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio for a routine evaluation.
He stayed with his wife in a residence on the base.
A Christmas tree decorated his home.
Brittney Griner reunites with her family at the Texas military installation, where she ate barbecue and took her first dunk since her release
"I appreciate the time and attention to make sure I was well and equipped with the tools for this new journey," she wrote on Instagram, referring to the staff at the San Antonio base.
His arrest and conviction drew attention to the plight of other Americans in Russian custody, including Whelan and Trevor Reed.
Whelan's release could not be secured in the latest prisoner exchange, while Reed returned to the United States in April after a nearly three-year ordeal.
Griner's prisoner swap drew criticism from Republicans, who accused the Biden administration of returning a dangerous prisoner to Russia without securing Whelan's release.
On multiple occasions over the past few weeks and months, Russian officials have made it clear that releasing Bout was the only way to free Griner from his detention.
His flight to Arizona on Friday is just one more step in his reintegration.
According to Colas, Griner has chosen to participate in the Defense Department's post-isolation program, in which other wrongfully detained Americans have participated, including Reed.
The program focuses on helping people who have been held captive to regain control of their lives after long detention.