WNBA player Brittney Griner made an appearance at a Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade in Phoenix, Arizona, a month after being released from a Russian jail in a prisoner swap.
Griner appeared in the parade on Monday with her wife, Cherelle, reportedly telling fans she was glad to be home.
Local reporter Jonathan McCall shared an image and video with Griner at the parade on Twitter.
HAPPY TO BE HOME: @PhoenixMercury star @brittneygriner makes appearance at #AZMLK Festival in Phoenix.
BG posed for pictures with fans.
Talked about being Houstonians.
Says she’s happy to be home after time in Russian prison.#News #AZ #BG42 #Hoops #WNBA pic.twitter.com/G2ocB8fEqO
— Jonathan McCall (@JonathanMcCall) January 16, 2023
Griner was arrested in February in a Moscow airport after vaping cartridges containing hashish oil were found in her luggage. She was later sentenced to more than nine years in a decision many argued was politically motivated.
The Mercury Phoenix center’s arrest occurred shortly before Russia invaded Ukraine in February. President Joe Biden spoke out against Russia’s invasion, with the U.S. providing billions of dollars in support to Ukraine.
Griner was released in December in a prisoner swap for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, also known as the “Merchant of Death.”
The two-time Olympic gold medalist wrote a post on Instagram to celebrate her freedom last month.
“It feels so good to be home! The last 10 months have been a battle at every turn. I dug deep to keep my faith and it was the love from so many of you that helped keep me going. From the bottom of my heart, thank you to everyone for your help,” Griner posted in December.
Griner also commented on her return to the basketball court next season.
“I also want to make one thing very clear: I intend to play basketball for the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury this season, and in doing so, I look forward to being able to say ‘thank you’ to those of you who advocated, wrote, and posted for me in person soon,” she added in the Instagram post.
Bout was serving a 25-year prison sentence in the U.S. for conspiring to kill Americans, delivery of anti-aircraft missiles, and aiding a terrorist organization.
Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was among those who spoke out against the Biden administration’s strategy in the prisoner swap.
“We weren’t going to trade bad guys for celebrities because it creates the wrong incentives for the bad guys. As we go forward, it’s not good for American national security. It’s not good for people who are traveling across the world,” he said.
Others have also expressed frustration that former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan remains imprisoned in Russia and was not freed during the negotiations to secure Griner’s release.
“I am greatly disappointed that more has not been done to secure my release, especially as the four-year anniversary of my arrest is coming up. I was arrested for a crime that never occurred,” Whelan said. “I don’t understand why I’m still sitting here.”