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Brittney Griner describes release from Russia and readjusting to life at home


Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

Amna Nawaz: Yesterday, we brought you part one of our interview with basketball star Brittney Griner, who's detailing for the first time what it was like being detained by Russian authorities for 10 months in 2022.

Her crime, carrying less than a gram of hashish oil for extreme pain from years of pounding on the courts. She had a medical prescription in the U.S., but the substance is illegal in Russia.

Tonight, Griner shares more from her book out today called "Coming Home." I met up with her recently at the YMCA of Greater New York.

Brittney Griner had been detained in Russia for six months, when a court sentenced her to nine years in prison.

You're told that if a guard stops you, you have to be able to tell them your crime and your release date in Russian at any point. Do you still remember how to say that?

Brittney Griner, WNBA Player: (speaking in foreign language) I forgot the last one. It was like 22 -- it was my crime in their penal code. But you had to say that, and a lot of other words too. But I struggled on it. I struggled on it big time.

Amna Nawaz: Across the globe, an effort was under way, led by her wife, Cherelle, to rally support behind the #WeAreBG hashtag and apply pressure on the Biden administration to bring her home.

But thousands of miles away, Griner admits there were times she lost all hope.

You write about your life in your cell in Russia and you say: "I wanted to take my life more than once in those first few weeks. I wanted it to be over. Suicide would have been easy. I could have broken off a piece of rusty metal, sliced it on my wrist. I could have found a loose screw. Nothing was bolted down well."

In the detail in that sentence, were you really looking around the cell and thinking about that?

Brittney Griner: Yes. Yes, definitely. I definitely thought about it, made a plan. I knew some places where there was some loose metal.

But in the end, if I would have did that, I would have thought about my mom, my dad, my sister, my brother, my wife. Who knows? They wouldn't -- maybe they -- maybe they didn't let go of my body. Maybe they held onto my body. It's already hard.

Amna Nawaz: You were held there for 10 months.

Brittney Griner: Mm-hmm.

Amna Nawaz: And in an interview, your coach at the time at the Phoenix Mercury said, if it was LeBron, he'd be home. Do you agree with that?

Brittney Griner: I mean, I definitely think -- and we have seen it before.

When female athletes fight for their rights or fight for equality, we're chirpy, we're being catty, but when the men -- and I'm not going to say just one sport, just men across the board -- it's showing their toughness. It's showing how strong they are, how they fight for themselves, the brotherhood.

So I just -- I hate the inequity of the two, and I definitely felt it.

Amna Nawaz: In December of 2022, a breakthrough in negotiations between the U.S. and Russia. Griner is to be traded for Viktor Bout, a prolific arms dealer and ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, held in a U.S. prison since 2012.

Griner is told to pack her things.

At what point, though, do you really allow yourself to say, OK, I am going home?

Brittney Griner: Once I was on the plane, I felt good, because, at any moment, it could have fell through.

Amna Nawaz: So literally not until you're on the plane?

Brittney Griner: Oh, not until I'm on the plane. And then once I'm on the soil and we pull it up to that hangar, and I saw my wife and I saw that U.S. flag hanging in that hangar, then I finally could relax.

Amna Nawaz: That first hug.

Brittney Griner: Oh, man.

Amna Nawaz: That first hug, what did that feel like?

Brittney Griner: It felt so good just seeing her. Oh, my God.

She's going to kill me for this, but...


Brittney Griner: She's going to kill me, but I just remember I was whispering in her ear, because I just wrapped my arms around her. My hand may have went a little low.

And I was just like: "You're going to kill me, but I'm so sorry."


Brittney Griner: "I missed you so much."


Brittney Griner: And she was like: "Oh, my God."


Brittney Griner: We're -- she's very private. And I was just like: "I hadn't seen you for 10 months. I just want to just touch you everywhere."


Amna Nawaz: I mean, you're just -- you light up when you talk about her.

Brittney Griner: Yes, I do.

Amna Nawaz: I can't -- after 10 months away, to be back together, what does that feel like?

Brittney Griner: She's my person. She's my person. I have said it before. She saved my life. She saved my life in the past.

She was there for me always.

Amna Nawaz: Safely back on U.S. soil, Griner was welcomed home by legions of fans as she made her return to the WNBA court in May of 2023.

But even back home, criticism and threats found her online from those who opposed the trade that freed her.

Brittney Griner: I had letters go to the gym and to my old home. It was hard to read. It was even more hard to read when they included my wife in it. That was pretty hard as well.

Amna Nawaz: You know, Relle says at one point in the book, you quote her as saying, there's no normal to go back to.

What does your normal look like now?

Brittney Griner: We had to find a new normal. Your whole life changes up.

At first, it was such a shock having security with us and just how we move about our lives. Like, so it's more quiet, which has given us, honestly, more peace, too because it's just us.

I like your stance. You're getting low right there.

Amna Nawaz: It's just them, for now, but B.G. and Cherelle are preparing to become a family of three. Their first baby is due in June.

Brittney Griner: You start here and just go side to side. Yes, yes, yes. There it is.

Amna Nawaz: Are you ready to be a mom?

Brittney Griner: I am so ready. I am so ready.


Brittney Griner: I am so ready. I cannot wait. It's going to be the most pinnacle part of my life.

Amna Nawaz: Do you know what you want to be called?

Brittney Griner: Yes. I call my dad Pops, so I'm going to go by Pops.

Amna Nawaz: The one thing you write about that goes on a real journey in the book is your faith.

Brittney Griner: Mm-hmm.

There were just so many nights where I just did not feel good and I could rely on my Bible and rely on my faith. And he got me through all that. I'm here because of him. He made me the way I am for a reason, and I'm glad he did.

Amna Nawaz: At the same time, I know you do a lot of work now with the Bring Our Families Home Campaign.

Brittney Griner: Mm-hmm.

Amna Nawaz: There are still Americans detained in Russia today. Paul Whelan remains there, Evan Gershkovich, The Wall Street Journal reporter, and many others around the world, right, in different countries.

You know better than most what they have been through. Gosh, if you could send one message to them, what would you want them to hear right now?

Brittney Griner: Don't give up. Don't give up. We're going to keep doing everything we can. We're going to make as much noise as we can, and we're going to use our platforms as much as we can to bring you home. And I will promise you that.

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