SAN ANTONIO – WNBA star Brittney Griner will reportedly land in San Antonio following her release in the U.S.-Russia prisoner swap.
Griner, who was released by Russia on Thursday in exchange for notorious Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, will be taken to Brooke Army Medical Center for a routine evaluation, a spokesperson confirmed to ABC News. She is slated to land at Kelly Field on the Southwest Side.
President Joe Biden spoke about the deal from the White House alongside Griner’s wife, Cherelle, and administration officials.
“She’s safe, she’s on a plane, she’s on her way home,” Biden said.
Griner’s family issued the following statement to ABC News:
“We would like to extend our sincere gratitude to President Biden and his administration for the tireless work they did to bring Brittney home. We would also like to extend a special thank you to Governor Richardson and Mickey Bergman of the Richardson Center for their work, as well as remaining in constant communication with us.
“We sincerely thank you all for the kind words, thoughts and prayers - including Paul and the Whelan family who have been generous with their support for Brittney and our family during what we know is a heartbreaking time. We pray for Paul and for the swift and safe return of all wrongfully-detained Americans.
“We ask that you respect our privacy as we embark on this road to healing.”
U.S. releases Russian felon
The deal, the second such exchange in eight months with Russia, procured the release of the most prominent American detained abroad. Griner is a two-time Olympic gold medalist whose monthslong imprisonment on drug charges brought unprecedented attention to the population of wrongful detainees.
Biden’s authorization to release a Russian felon once nicknamed “the Merchant of Death” underscored the escalating pressure that his administration faced to get Griner home, particularly after the recent resolution of her criminal case and her subsequent transfer to a penal colony.
The Russian Foreign Ministry also confirmed the swap, saying in a statement carried by Russian news agencies that the exchange took place in Abu-Dhabi and that Bout has been flown home.
WATCH BELOW: Biden speaks after WNBA star Brittney Griner freed
Russian and U.S. officials had conveyed cautious optimism in recent weeks after months of strained negotiations, with Biden saying in November that he was hopeful that Russia would engage in a deal now that the midterm elections were completed. A top Russian official said last week that a deal was possible before year’s end.
Griner’s arrest and trial in Russia
Griner’s arrest in February made her the most high-profile American jailed abroad. Her status as an openly gay Black woman, locked up in a country where authorities have been hostile to the LBGTQ community, infused racial, gender and social dynamics into her legal saga and made each development a matter of international importance.
Griner was arrested at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport in February when customs officials said they found vape canisters with cannabis oil in her luggage. She pleaded guilty in July, though still faced trial because admitting guilt in Russia’s judicial system does not automatically end a case.
She acknowledged in court that she possessed the canisters, but said she had no criminal intent and said their presence in her luggage was due to hasty packing.
Before being sentenced on Aug. 4 and receiving a punishment her lawyers said was out of line for the offense, an emotional Griner apologized “for my mistake that I made and the embarrassment that I brought on them.” She added: “I hope in your ruling it does not end my life.”
Support from basketball community
Griner is a six-time WNBA All-Star. She played college basketball at Baylor University before her professional career.
Following her release on Thursday, WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert issued a statement that stated Griner “has shown extraordinary courage and dignity in the face of enormous adversity.”
The following statement was released in regards to Brittney Griner's return home: pic.twitter.com/p0D0nhaNDW— WNBA (@WNBA) December 8, 2022
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver also released a statement, saying “we’re thrilled that she is on her way home to her family and friends.”
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver today issued the following statement regarding Brittney Griner: pic.twitter.com/9QFqWIn1a4— NBA Communications (@NBAPR) December 8, 2022