LeBron James questioned why Brittney Griner — who has been held in Russian captivity for five months — would want to return to America after she is released.
“How could she feel like America has her back?” James asked in a preview of season 5, episode 5 of “The Shop” after noting she has been in prison for more than 110 days.
“I would be feeling like, ‘Do I even want to go back to America?'” he said in the clip.
Griner was first arrested at a Moscow airport in February for allegedly carrying vape cartridges containing hashish oil in her luggage. She has since pleaded guilty to charges of large-scale transportation of drugs — a move that sources say likely does not indicate her culpability but may help expedite her return home.
The two-time Olympic gold medalist has plenty of incentive to return to the United States as soon as possible. Sources have told Insider that Russian prison is not a pleasant place for anyone, but it’s an especially hostile environment for Americans.
Plus, as Jonathan Franks — a hostage negotiation expert who helped negotiate for the freedom of fellow wrongfully detained American Trevor Reed — previously told Insider, a 6-foot-9 Black woman is “kind of rare in Russia.” And given the state’s hostile stance towards LGBTQ+ people and their lack of legal protections against discrimination, her status as an out and proud lesbian makes her a target for ridicule.
“It’s almost like they’re putting her out there to be guffawed at,” Franks said. “I think that’s shameful and says it all about this regime and their system.”
“[The US government] just need to do whatever it takes to bring her home and [fellow American detainee] Paul Whelan as fast as possible,” he later added. “I’ve already explained my particular concern about Brittney as a Black LGBT woman. I don’t trust that regime with LGBT people.”
The Biden Administration has been in touch with the Russian government to try to help facilitate the WNBA star’s release. President Joe Biden has written a letter to Griner in prison and has spoken to her wife, Cherelle, on the phone.
Sources have repeatedly told Insider that the two-time Olympic gold medalist’s best chance of returning stateside any time soon involves a prisoner exchange with Russia. Several experts explained that an unorthodox two-for-one swap involving Whelan and notorious Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout could be the key to Griner’s freedom.
Even Bout’s sentencing judge — the Hon. Shira A. Scheindlin, who was a federal judge at the US District Court for the Southern District of New York when she gave Bout a mandatory minimum sentence of 25 years in prison — told Insider that “I don’t think it would be wrong to trade him” in exchange for Griner and Whelan.
“I’m not saying he’s an innocent guy, don’t get me wrong, but I do think having served 11 years or so … that’s a pretty hefty amount of time in a person’s life,” Scheindlin added. “… The US interest in punishing him has been satisfied, in my opinion.”
As Griner’s fight for freedom wages on half a world away, the WNBA is in the middle of its 2022 season. Just this weekend, 22 of the league’s top players traveled to Chicago for this year’s All-Star Game. The superstars vowed to use every tool at their disposal to help urge the Biden administration to act — including wearing Griner’s name and number on their jerseys during Sunday’s contest.
“We are the most unified league in the world, and wearing the jerseys was a statement to show that we are BG,” 2022 WNBA All-Star captain A’ja Wilson said on Sunday. “Yes, we have the shirts and the pins, but BG is one of us. She’s our sister.”
“And at the end of the day, we are going to do whatever we can to amplify the platform that we have to make sure that everyone is doing what they need to do to make sure that she gets home safely,” the 2020 league MVP added. “It’s hard. It’s hard for all of us. It’s not easy.”
“Not a day goes by that I’m not thinking about Brittney Griner.”