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Phoenix Mercury star Brittney Griner freed from Russian prison, heading home

Griner is on a plane back to the US today.

Dallas Mavericks v Phoenix Suns - Game Five Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Months after detainment for discovery of an illegal amount of drugs found in a search of her luggage, as she was traveling to Russia to play for UMMC Ekaterinburg for the eighth straight year during the WNBA offseason, Phoenix Mercury star center Brittney Griner is heading home a free woman.

Griner, who was being held for possession of a small but illegal amount of hashish oil, was released on Thursday, Dec. 8, in a one-for-one prisoner swap for international arms dealer Viktor Bout whose nickname is “Merchant of Death”.

I don’t pretend to know anything about the Russian penal system or Russian laws. Or anything about how prisoner exchanges are negotiated. I’m just a Suns blogger who lives in Phoenix, Arizona.

All I know is that this swap boggles my mind. A petty criminal for the “Merchant of Death”? Yet, it’s apparently the only deal the US could muster after months of negotiation to get Griner back to the States.

Griner is going home and so is Victor Bout.

She’s been detained in a Russian prison since early March, was put on some kind of trial that found her guilty of “large-scale transportation of drugs”, was sentenced to 10 years in prison, and was moved to a penal colony in recent weeks.

All summer, the WNBA, NBA and US Government kept this story in the news, calling for Griner’s outright release, to no avail. Once the final verdict was handed down, the only option was apparently a prisoner exchange.

That’s all I’ve got on the prisoner-swap front.

Now Griner has to put her life back together. She’s obviously gone through a great deal of emotional trauma.

Her contract with the Phoenix Mercury expires before next season begins. Who knows if she will be in any physical, mental or emotional state to play professional basketball again.

All we can hope is that Griner recovers on a personal level, and whatever she decides to do for the rest of her life is up to her.

Griner’s wife does say that she plans to continue to fight for other Americans to be freed from international prisons, including Paul Whelan, an American still detained in Russia. Whelan has been imprisoned in Russia for years now and has twice now been ‘left behind’ while another American was freed in a one-for-one prisoner exchange like Griner’s. Whelan was charged with espionage, a much bigger penalty than Griner’s drug transportation charge.

Whelan’s family today praised the US government for their efforts in getting Griner freed.

“I am so glad that Brittney Griner is on her way home,” David Whelan, Paul’s twin brother, said in a statement Thursday via ABC’s Jay O’Brien. “As the family member of a Russian hostage, I can literally only imagine the joy she will have, being reunited with her loved ones, and in time for the holidays. There is no greater success than for a wrongful detainee to be free and for them to go home. The Biden Administration made the right decision to bring Ms. Griner home, and to make the deal that was possible, rather than waiting for one that wasn’t going to happen.”

The US Gov’t had tried to make it a two-for-one for months, but obviously came up short.

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