In the early morning hours of Dec. 8, news broke that a prisoner exchange with Russia had been agreed upon securing the release of basketball star Brittney Griner, who had been detained for almost 10 months. The exchange involving Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, who was serving a 25-year sentence in a U.S. prison, happened in the United Arab Emirates. After that, Griner, 32, a WNBA Champion and two-time Olympic gold medalist, was flown to San Antonio, Texas, for medical evaluation and treatment, arriving in the early morning of Dec. 9.

“Today, we gladly applaud the administration for the hard work of ensuring Brittney’s imprisonment finally came to an end. My prayers for her and her family remain as strong today as ever because her journey is far from over. Brittney returns home with spiritual and emotional wounds that can only heal now that she’s free,” said the Rev. Al Sharpton in a statement.

“The fact that Griner was both Black and LGBTQ+ made her even more of a target, and the treatment that she faced in the Russian court system even more horrific. The Biden administration was right to recognize that bringing Griner home was a top priority, and we thank them for that,” noted Victoria Kirby York, director of public policy and programs at the National Black Justice Coalition, a leading Black LGBTQ+ civil rights organization.

Griner’s WNBA team, the Phoenix Mercury, released the following: “The emotions for our organization, just like for our fans and so many across the world, are those of joyous celebration, deep gratitude, grief for the time lost, and sincere hope for all families still awaiting the return of a loved one.”

WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert spoke with the media on Dec. 8. She mentioned the unrelenting support that Griner received from WNBA players, coaches and others. “They advocated for her every day, and the whole women’s basketball system. I want to thank you, the media, for keeping BG at the top of your coverage because that was helpful. And to the WNBA fans as well who continued to advocate for BG in getting her home,” she said.

There is ongoing discussion that the whole reason Griner was playing for a team in Russia was because WNBA players don’t earn enough. It should be noted that in her absence Griner’s full salary was paid for the 2022 season. The mood among those connected to women’s hoops remains filled with gratitude over Griner’s release. 

“It has been super hard to keep the faith,” said broadcaster Lawrencia Moten, a former college player turned commentator. “Right now, everyone’s thoughts, love and prayers are with her family, but I do feel there’s going to be a lot more to unpack.”

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