Thursday the country, and the basketball world in particular, learned that WNBA star Brittney Griner has been freed. In a one-for-one prisoner swap, Griner was released from prison in Russia, where she spent a total of 294 days for drug smuggling after Russian customs found hashish oil cartridges in her luggage, in exchange for international arms dealer Viktor Bout.
Per CBS News, President Joe Biden provided the crucial update so many fans had been praying for:
“She’s safe. She’s on a plane,” President Biden said at the White House, announcing the exchange. ”She’s on her way home. After months of being unjustly detained in Russia, held under intolerable circumstances, Brittney will soon be back in the arms of her loved ones and she should have been there all along. This is a day we’ve worked toward for a long time. We never stopped pushing for her release.”
The WNBA released a statement as well:
With a few days off between the team’s terrible loss to the lowly Houston Rockets and Friday’s tilt with LeBron James, Anthony Davis and the Los Angeles Lakers, the Sixers were asked about the news of the day.
“Great news. Obviously, great news. I’m just excited, I’m happy,” Doc Rivers said to reporters Thursday afternoon. “Listen, I want all Americans, not just Brittney, we got people in other countries too that are hostages because they’re Americans. No other reason then they’re Americans. So it’s good that we can strike a deal. I don’t know the whole thing. Sure we probably let a criminal back out on the street, I don’t know that, but it’s just great for Brittney. I can’t imagine what she’s gone through over this last year. I just hope she’s healthy, I hope her mental health is strong and then she can get back and just re-integrate herself back into our country.”
Always the Sixers emotional leader, Tobias Harris weighed in as well.
“It was great to hear. I woke up this morning and saw that, it brought a smile to my face,” Harris said. “Obviously her being in the WNBA that’s our community and having that situation go on over there and a lot of us here praying for her and sending well wishes but there wasn’t much many of us could do. So for her to be free and be able to come back home, I know her family is super excited and happy. That made me feel good this morning waking up to.”
The comments came in between talk of trying to get back on track from a basketball point of view. Harris has been hot from distance, knocking down 12 of his last 14 triples. He also spoke about the team reintegrating James Harden, returning from the foot sprain which cost the 33 year-old a month, and the work they still have to do to find cohesion.
But for a brief moment, everyone paused to think about something a little bigger than X’s and O’s and strategy.