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Brittney Griner: ‘I intend to play basketball’ for Mercury in 2023

Brittney Griner spent nearly 10 months imprisoned in Russia before her release on Dec. 8. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Brittney Griner announced her intent to play in the WNBA in 2023 in her first public statement since her release from a Russian prison on Dec. 8.

After spending nearly 10 months imprisoned in Russia, the 32-year-old was freed in a prisoner swap negotiated by the U.S. government and returned to American soil last Friday.

Griner has played for the Phoenix Mercury since the team drafted her with the No. 1 overall pick in 2013. While her contract expired after the 2022 season, the Mercury made clear they would welcome her back with open arms if she chose to return to the court.

With her message Friday morning, she “wanted to make one thing very clear,” she wrote in the Instagram caption.

“I intend to play basketball for the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury this season,” she wrote. “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 Mercury center was arrested on Feb. 17 at a Moscow-area airport while trying to join her Russian club, UMMC Ekaterinburg, during the WNBA offseason. She was convicted and sentenced in August to nine years in a Russian penal colony in a trial U.S. officials called a sham.

The Biden administration spent months working on a prisoner swap, through which Russia released Griner in exchange for the United States’ release of arms dealer Viktor Bout.

U.S. officials also had sought the release of Paul Whelan, another American considered wrongfully detained in Russia, but could not reach a deal. In her message Friday, Griner said she will do whatever she can to help Whelan and others in similar plights.

“I also encourage everyone that played a part in bringing me home to continue their efforts to bring all Americans home,” she wrote. “Every family deserves to be whole.”

Since her return, she had been staying at the U.S. Army’s Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston in Texas, but she left Friday to travel home. She was surprised on the plane by Mercury general manager Jim Pitman, team president Vince Kozar and teammate Diana Taurasi, CNN reported.