Brittney Griner speaks out in first press conference since her detention : NPR

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During a press conference in Phoenix, Arizona on Thursday, Brittney Griner told reporters that she was not planning to play abroad again unless she was invited to the Olympics.

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Christian Petersen/Getty Images


During a press conference in Phoenix, Arizona on Thursday, Brittney Griner told reporters that she was not planning to play abroad again unless she was invited to the Olympics.

Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Brittney Griner, the WNBA star who spent 10 months in Russian detention, said her days playing in international leagues are over.

“I will never go abroad to play again unless I represent my country in the Olympics,” she said Thursday, as part of her first press conference since she was released in December. “You know, if I make that team, that will be the only time I leave US soil.”

The meeting with the national and local press was held to discuss Griner’s return to the court ahead of the next WNBA season with the Phoenix Mercury.

But it was also the first chance for many reporters to question the star center about being arrested by Russian airport security on drug smuggling charges last February. Griner was held in detention for 10 months before the United States negotiated her release in exchange for convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout.

She took to the stage in Phoenix wearing a black T-shirt with the phrase “bring our families home”.

“Ooh, a little different from a basketball press conference. Lots of media here,” she said with a laugh.

And while Griner kept her air light throughout the half-hour session, she couldn’t fight back tears when the first reporter asked about how she stayed resilient during her incarceration.

“You just dig deep, honestly,” Griner said. “I know this sounds so small, but, you know, you die in practice and hard workouts. You find a way to just grind it out. Put your head down and keep moving forward. You know, you can never stand still.”

She has not shared many details about her detention, with Mercury staff warning reporters of security concerns. But she said that, even in solitary confinement in a foreign prison, she was aware of the support from supporters and the push from US officials to bring her home.

“It made me a little more comfortable,” she said. “It gave me a little bit… to have hope, which is a really hard thing to have. It’s a dangerous thing to have. Because, you know, when it doesn’t work, it’s so crushing.”

She and the Mercury will be part of a campaign this season in support of other Americans held overseas, including former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, who negotiators tried to include in the swap that brought Griner home. , and Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, who was detained in late March.

But Griner said she’s also enjoying the feeling of having a basketball back in her hands.

When she takes the court as the new season begins next month, she hopes more people than ever will watch to help close basketball’s gender pay gap.

“I think that’s a big reason why a lot of people go overseas. That’s why I was there,” she said. “Meanwhile I’d like to pay my electricity bill for the love of the game, I can’t.”

NPR’s Tom Goldman contributed to this report.

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