WNBA celebrates news of Brittney Griner’s return home

“I am so happy to hear of the news of BG’s return home. I know I can speak for the entire Sky organization when I say words can’t express the happiness that we feel to finally have her coming home,” coach/GM James Wade said.

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In this image made from video provided by Russian Federal Security Service, WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner sits in the plane as she flies to Abu Dhabi to be exchanged for Russian citizen Viktor Bout.

In this image made from video provided by Russian Federal Security Service, WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner sits in the plane as she flies to Abu Dhabi to be exchanged for Russian citizen Viktor Bout.

Russian Federal Security Service via AP

Sky coach and general manager James Wade was at his home in France with his wife, Edwige Lawson-Wade, when he received word that Brittney Griner was on her way home after 294 days of being wrongfully detained in Russia. 

The moment, he said, is one he will remember forever. 

“Me and Edwige shared an embrace,” Wade said. “It was really an emotional moment for us. We talked and prayed about [this day] a lot. So it was a very special moment for us to share that we finally got the news we’ve been waiting for.

“Moments like that, you don’t forget.” 

Wade, who coached Griner at Russian powerhouse UMMC Ekaterinburg from 2017 to 2020, has been a vocal presence throughout the two-time Olympic gold medalist’s detention. He wore an orange pin every day with the message “We are BG” and spoke regularly in his news conferences about Griner, bringing attention to her wrongful detainment and pleading for her safe release. 

The pair won two Euro-league titles during their time together as player and coach. 

Sky players Allie Quigley, Courtney Vandersloot and Emma Meesseman all shared the court with Griner on Ekaterinburg, as well. 

Early Thursday morning, news that Russia had freed Griner broke after the U.S. agreed to a prisoner exchange, releasing notorious Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout. Emotions similar to Wade’s were shared widely, stretching beyond Griner’s teammates and peers in the WNBA. 

“Tears of joy today! And before Christmas? God is so good. Welcome home BG!!!! We love you!” Quigley shared on Twitter. 

“BG is going home,” Meesseman tweeted. 

“So, so happy for BG and her family,” Sky star Candace Parker, who won a gold medal with Griner in 2016 and played with her overseas, shared on Instagram. “This is amazing news.” 

WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert held a news conference after confirming that Griner was safely on a plane en route to Texas. Engelbert said she was informed earlier in the week that negotiations had intensified and that a solution was in sight, but it wasn’t until Thursday morning that she received confirmation. 

The next step for the league is helping ensure Griner’s mental, physical and emotional health is prioritized. 

“She’ll get an evaluation and care through kind of, call it a repatriation system here into the U.S. through the government resources,” Engelbert said. “And we are here, the players association, I’m sure, is already working on this, as well.” 

The last time Wade saw Griner in person was at Game 4 of the 2021 WNBA Finals in Chicago, but he, like other members of the WNBA community, wrote her letters. Wade received one in return from Griner. 

No players in the WNBA are playing in Russia, a direct result of Griner’s detention. Many have vowed they would never play there again. Previously, it had been a destination for some of the league’s biggest stars, producing some of the highest salaries. As for his players maintaining careers overseas, Wade said he would listen and offer advice pertinent to each individual. 

“Those are really personal conversations,” Wade said. “You have to support people and understand where they are coming from and why they want to go overseas. Of course, I coach in the WNBA. You want that to be the premier league, but you also have to listen to players. Each individual player is different.” 

Wade issued a statement expressing the Sky’s continued support for Griner as she returns home. He also spoke of the team’s backing for Paul Whelan, who has been imprisoned in Russia since December 2018 and at one point was believed to be part of an exchange with Griner for Bout. 

His feelings were aligned with those of the league and Griner’s wife, Cherelle, who vowed to continue to fight for wrongfully detained Americans everywhere. 

“We’re going to work with the WNBA and everybody to shed a light on social issues like we’ve always done,” Wade said. “I’m very proud to be part of this league and the change we apply our efforts and our hearts to.”

“I’m also very proud to be a Black man that stands up for social change, as well. Especially coming from a history of people that have been oppressed and deprived. This is something I will always speak up for and be part of. 

“I can’t hide from it. I’m happy to be part of a league that doesn’t hide from it either.” 

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