Britney Griner is a free woman after 294 days behind bars in Russia, to the relief of just about everyone in the basketball world. That includes LeBron James.
The Los Angeles Lakers star applauded Griner's return during his "The Shop" alternate stream of "Thursday Night Football," several hours after it was reported Russia had agreed to release her in exchange for convicted arms trafficker Viktor Bout.
It’s a great day. BG is back home 🙌🏾 pic.twitter.com/usELM6FoNS— UNINTERRUPTED (@uninterrupted) December 9, 2022
Speaking with longtime friend and business partner Maverick Carter over video conference (the Lakers are currently on an East Coast road trip), James called Griner's release an important cause for the basketball world while also acknowledging the existence of other Americans wrongfully detained in foreign countries:
"I think it's a great day. For us as Americans, I think having BG back, in the sports world, just having her family's back, I know her wife misses her and her family misses her, her club misses her here in Phoenix. To have her a part of the basketball brother and sisterhood, it's a big day for us and what we do. Kudos to the president, kudos to Kamala Harris and everyone that had something to do with it. Like Mav said, there's a lot of people that's unlawfully detained right now. We hope we can get them all."
Most notable among those Americans detained is Paul Whelan, who has been imprisoned in Russia for nearly four years.
U.S. officials attempted to secure freedom for both Griner and Whelan in exchange for Bout for months, but Russia consistently rejected any proposal that would free the 52-year-old former Marine, who was sentenced to 16 years in prison over allegations of espionage. Even when offered a straight Whelan-for-Bout exchange, Russia reportedly balked at negotiating.
James was one of a litany of basketball players in the NBA and WNBA who called for more urgent efforts to free Griner, an effort that led to controversy in July when James seemingly questioned If Griner should want to go back to the U.S. in a clip from "The Shop."
My comments on “The Shop” regarding Brittney Griner wasn’t knocking our beautiful country. I was simply saying how she’s probably feeling emotionally along with so many other emotions, thoughts, etc inside that cage she’s been in for over 100+ days! Long story short #BringHerHome— LeBron James (@KingJames) July 13, 2022
Griner's flight back to the U.S. will only be the first step of her return, as the Phoenix Mercury star will likely need a significant amount of time to recover both physically and mentally from Russia's notoriously grueling prison conditions. WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert has said she will be given time and space before the league engages with her.