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Brittney Griner says she'll play in the upcoming WNBA season

Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner plays in a September 2021 game. In her first public comments since being freed from Russia, she says she will play in the next WNBA season.
Michael Conroy
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AP
Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner plays in a September 2021 game. In her first public comments since being freed from Russia, she says she will play in the next WNBA season.

In her first public statement since being freed from Russia, Brittney Griner says she'll play in the upcoming WNBA season.

The two-time Olympic gold medalist shared the news — and expressed thanks for the people who helped bring her home — in an Instagram post on Friday, a week after she returned to the U.S. in a prisoner swap.

"I also want to make one thing very clear," she wrote. "I intend to play basketball for the WNBA's Phoenix Mercury this season, and in doing so, I look forward to being able to say 'thank you' to those of you who advocated, wrote, and posted for me in person soon."

The 2023 WNBA season begins on May 19. Griner was the Mercury's leading scorer and rebounder in the 2021 WNBA season, in which Phoenix lost in the finals. Griner came in second in MVP voting for the season.

Griner went to Russia to play for a team there during the U.S. offseason, which many WNBA players do because of basketball's gender pay gap. She was detained in February and sentenced to nine years in prison on drug smuggling charges

Griner landed in San Antonio last Friday after her release in a prisoner exchange. The White House said at the time that she was in good health and good spirits.

"It feels so good to be home!" Griner wrote on Instagram. "The last 10 months have been a battle at every turn. I dug deep to keep my faith and it was the love from so many of you that helped keep me going. From the bottom of my heart, thank you to everyone for your help."

She thanked her family, the WNBA, her legal team, the San Antonio Fort Sam Houston Base medical team, the Biden-Harris administration, and several individuals and organizations who lobbied for her release.

Griner's agent, Lindsay Kagawa Colas, told NPR's All Things Considered on Wednesday that the athlete is doing well and "benefitting from all of the resources that the U.S. government provides to someone like her, who has been through so much and is now into this next phase of reintegration."

Griner already had hit the basketball court, she said, emphasizing that "the most important thing is that the things that she's doing now, it's all her choice."

Colas added that Griner wants to use her newfound platform to help people, particularly others who have been wrongfully detained abroad. That includes Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine first imprisoned in 2018 who continues to be held in Russia despite the release of two other Americans there this year. Griner "asks about him constantly," her agent said.

Griner herself mentioned Whelan's plight in a portion of her Instagram post that she addressed to President Joe Biden.

"President Biden, you brought me home and I know you are committed to bringing Paul Whelan and all Americans home too," she wrote. "I will use my platform to do whatever I can to help you. I also encourage everyone that played a part in bringing me home to continue their efforts to bring all Americans home. Every family deserves to be whole."

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Rachel Treisman (she/her) is a writer and editor for the Morning Edition live blog, which she helped launch in early 2021.