Prior to her release on Thursday, the Texas basketball star was transferred to a Russian correctional camp after being initially detained in February.
President Joe Biden said Thursday morning that Houston native and American basketball star Brittney Griner had been exchanged for prisoners and released from Russian detention.
In a tweet announcing the release, Biden stated that the woman was “on her way home.” According to Mayor Sylvester Turner, Houston City Hall will be lit in red, white, and blue on Thursday night in her honor.
In February, Griner was detained in a Moscow airport after officials found cannabis oil and vape cartridges in her luggage. She was found guilty of importing illegal substances into Russia and given a nine-year prison sentence.
Griner admitted admission to the charges in September and apologized for the incident, calling it an “honest mistake,” to which the White House referred as a “sham.”
From 2009 through 2013, Griner was a standout player for the Baylor University Lady Bears basketball team. Since being drafted in 2013, she has competed for the Phoenix Mercury. During the off seasons, she has also played basketball in China and Russia.
As first reported by CBS News on Thursday morning, her release was arranged in exchange for the release of notorious Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, also known as “the Merchant of Death.”
Cherelle Griner, Biden’s wife, also made an appearance at the press conference to announce the release.
She stated, “Over the last nine months, y’all have been so privy to one of the darkest moments of my life.” “Today I’m just standing here, overwhelmed with emotions. But the most important emotion that I have right now is just sincere gratitude for President Biden and his entire administration.”
Biden said that from the start of Griner’s detention, he had been engaged in “painstaking and intense negotiations” to secure her release.
Notably, retired Americans were not exchanged for prisoners. American officials also contend that the espionage claims against Marine Paul Whelan, who has been held by Russia for over four years, are false.
In response to Paul Whelan, who has been wrongfully held in Russia for years, Biden declared on Thursday that his government “has not forgotten about Paul Whelan.”
While Griner’s coming home pleased U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, he expressed disappointment that Biden was unable to obtain the release of other imprisoned Americans. This includes Austin Tice, a Houston-based American journalist who vanished in Syria in 2012 but whose detention status has not been confirmed by the Syrian government, according to Texas Monthly.
In a statement, Cornyn said, “Brittney has endured unimaginable suffering under the Russian regime, and I am eager for her to be safely reunited with her family on American soil,” Cornyn said. “President Biden must continue to press for the release of all Americans wrongfully detained by our adversaries, including Paul Whelan and Austin Tice.”
A number of Texas legislators, including U.S. Al Green and Lizzie Fletcher, representatives from Houston, praised and celebrated Griner’s release.
The Mercury, Griner’s team, had tweeted updates detailing the duration of her detention. The group published a new post on Thursday morning: “No more days. She’s coming home.” On Thursday night, the two-time Olympic gold medalist is anticipated to arrive at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio for a checkup.