Brittney Griner Returns to U.S. Soil in ‘Good Spirits,’ Immediately Dunks Ball

The WNBA star is back on the court rocking Chucks and a new haircut, chatting everyone up, eating Cheetos, and obviously dunking.

Brittney Griner Returns to U.S. Soil in ‘Good Spirits,’ Immediately Dunks Ball
Photo:Scott Taetsch/Getty Images (Getty Images)

After nearly 10 months in Russian detention so cold she had to cut off her signature locs, two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner is finally home. Aside from reuniting with her wife Cherelle, her first matter of business? Dunking on the court.

On Thursday, Griner flew home as part of a one-for-one prisoner swap the Biden administration brokered: the WNBA star for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout. Griner is currently at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas, where she is getting reacclimated to civilian life, her agent, Lindsay Kagawa Colas, told ESPN. Over the weekend, Colas said, Griner hopped into a pair of black Chucks, Phoenix Suns shorts, and a Title IX t-shirt and picked up a basketball for the first time since February, when she was wrongfully detained for trace amounts of cannabis in her luggage. The very first thing she did was dunk the ball in a powerful return to the court after a nightmarish year.

Griner doesn’t yet know when or if she’ll return to the WNBA to play for her team, the Phoenix Mercury, Colas added. Regardless, Griner is expected to issue a statement this week.

“If she wants to play, it will be for her to share. She has the holidays to rest and decide what’s next without any pressure,” her agent told ESPN. “She’s doing really, really well. She seems to have endured this in pretty incredible ways.”

After returning from a women’s prison 200 miles outside of Moscow, Griner and her wife, Cherelle—who tirelessly advocated for Griner’s return—are staying in a hotel on the base, where ESPN says they are reuniting with other family members and discussing how to ease Griner back into normal life. Her father, Ray, reportedly visited her Saturday with Smoke Shack barbecue. Family members are expected to bring her even more barbecue this week, as they should.

Griner, who typically rocks locs, had them removed in Russia due to freezing temperatures. On Sunday, however, she received a haircut from the San Antonio Spurs’ barber, according to Colas, to fix the one she got two weeks ago. “She thought she was going to be there a while,” Colas added. Several sources close to Griner told ESPN that whenever Griner is ready to leave San Antonio, she will head to a private, secure location, not her Phoenix home.

“There’s no timeline on her return at this point. She’s reintegrating into a world that has changed for her now,” Colas said. “From a pure security standpoint she’s not going to be able to move in the world the way she did. It’s not a fate that she asked for, but I think she’s going to try to utilize her fame for good.”

Despite enduring a soul-crushing 10 months, Roger Carstens, the U.S. special presidential envoy for hostage affairs, told CNN on Sunday that Griner was upbeat for the duration of her 18-hour flight home, “eager” to chat with anyone and everyone after spending the majority of the year with Russian-speaking officials.

“I’ve been in prison for 10 months, listening to the Russians. I want to talk,” Griner said, according to Carstens. She then turned to the flight crew, asking Carstens, “But first of all, who are these guys?”

“And she moved right past me and went to every member on that crew, looked them in the eyes, shook their hands and asked about them, got their names, making a personal connection with them,’’ Carstens told CNN. “It was really amazing.” Griner was also “in good spirits” and “incredibly gracious,” National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby told CNN.

Upon landing, Brittney was able to reunite with Cherelle in a “family room” that had been prepared with Griner’s favorite snacks: Reese’s peanut butter cups, Cheetos and Dr. Pepper. She has also since received a new pair of glasses and a wardrobe from Nike.

“I was left with the impression this is an intelligent, passionate, compassionate, humble, interesting person, a patriotic person,” Carstens said. “But above all, authentic. I hate the fact that I had to meet her in this manner, but I actually felt blessed having had a chance to get to know her.”

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