Brittney Griner Back in the US After Prisoner Swap

The basketball star's 10-month detention in Russia is over.

Andrew Blok Editor I
Andrew Blok has been an editor at CNET covering HVAC and home energy, with a focus on solar, since October 2021. As an environmental journalist, he navigates the changing energy landscape to help people make smart energy decisions. He's a graduate of the Knight Center for Environmental Journalism at Michigan State and has written for several publications in the Great Lakes region, including Great Lakes Now and Environmental Health News, since 2019. You can find him in western Michigan watching birds.
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Brittney Griner descends the steps of a small jet.

Britney Griner departs a plane in San Antonio the morning of Dec. 9.

Suzanne Cordeiro/Getty Images

Basketball star Brittney Griner has returned to the United States after a prisoner swap between the US and Russia. Griner landed at the Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas, early Friday morning. 

Her return followed the White House's announcement of the prisoner swap on Thursday morning. A video, apparently from the plane that flew her out of Russia, showed Griner smiling but unsure of what was happening.

The swap also saw the release from the US of arms dealer Viktor Bout, nicknamed the "Merchant of Death," who was convicted of supplying weapons to Al-Qaeda and the Taliban and plotting to kill Americans.

Griner was arrested in February at a Russian airport when vape cartridges with traces of cannabis oil were allegedly found in her luggage. She was visiting the country during the WNBA offseason to play for a Russian professional team. Her arrest took on even greater significance when, a week after she was detained, Russia invaded Ukraine. In August, Griner was convicted in a Russian court and sentenced to nine years in prison. She started serving her sentence in November.

Earlier this year, the US State Department declared Griner "wrongfully detained." Her wife, Cherelle Griner, pictured Thursday at the White House with President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, has advocated for her wife's release and has called her a "political pawn." 

Griner is a star in the WNBA and was the 2021 league leader in points scored, minutes played, field goals made and field goal percentage for players with over 40 attempts. She missed the entirety of the 2022 season. It's common for WNBA players to play abroad in the offseason to supplement their salaries.

Griner's release has also focused attention on Paul Whelan, who remains detained in Russia. In his remarks about Griner's release, Biden said, "While we have not yet succeeded in securing Paul's release, we are not giving up."

Whelan's brother, Paul Whelan, said that word of Griner's release was "great news" before expressing concern about how negotiations over his brother's release seem to have reached an impasse.