- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
On Friday, Brittney Griner will make her official return to WNBA action as the Phoenix Mercury open the 2023 regular season against the Los Angeles Sparks – more than six months following her return to United States soil after she spent nearly a year wrongfully detained in the Russian legal system.
Since then, Griner has kept a mostly low profile with a handful of public appearances sprinkled in: she and wife Cherelle appeared at the Super Bowl and Waste Management Open in February, and Griner also showed up at the Met Gala earlier this month.
The two-time Olympic gold medal winner and eight-time WNBA All-Star was arrested last year by Russian authorities on charges of bringing vape cartridges filled with hashish oil in her luggage while returning to play for her professional team there. Griner admitted to accidently bringing in the cartridges during her sham trial and was sentenced to nine years at a labor camp.
Here is a complete rundown of Griner’s past 15 months, from her arrest in Russia to the beginning of her 10th season in the W:
SPORTS NEWSLETTER: Sign up now for daily updates sent to your inbox
Feb. 17, 2022: Griner stopped at airport
Although the public would not know for more than two weeks, Griner is stopped by Russian authorities. Images later released showed her going through security at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport while returning to play for her Russian professional basketball team, UMMC Ekaterinburg.
Griner's arrest would not be made public for nearly three weeks. Rep. Colin Allred (D-Texas) later said on March 9 that the arrest took place on Feb. 17.
VOICE TO THE VOICELESS: Mural features Brittney Griner, wrongfully detained Americans
Feb. 24, 2022: Russia invades Ukraine
After weeks of ramped up troop activity near the country's shared border, Russia begins a bloody invasion of Ukraine. In response, the U.S. has provided Ukraine with military support and levied economic sanctions on Russia.
March 5, 2022: News breaks about Brittney Griner's arrest
The Russian Federal Customs Service says that they detained a "professional basketball player, a member of the U.S. National Basketball Association, a two-time Olympic basketball champion in the U.S. team." Russian state news agency TASS identified the player as Griner.
The Russian Federal Customs Service maintains Griner carried vape cartridges filled with "cannabis oil."
The WNBA, the Phoenix Mercury and USA Basketball all said they are monitoring the situation.
'HOSTAGE DIPLOMACY': Potential Brittney Griner prisoner swap with Russia is promising and dangerous
March 6: US government speaks about Griner
At a press briefing, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is asked about Griner's arrest for the first time.
"We have an embassy team that’s working on the cases of other Americans who are detained in Russia," Blinken said alongside Moldova President Maia Sandu. "We’re doing everything we can to see to it that their rights are upheld and respected.
When asked about Griner's case since, Blinken has referred generally to "all detained Americans abroad."
WHO IS VIKTOR BOUT?: Arms dealer and 'Merchant of Death' freed in exchange for Brittney Griner
WHO IS PAUL WHELAN?: American remains imprisoned in Russia
March 7, 2022: Cherelle Griner speaks out
Cherelle Griner, the wife of Brittney Griner, posts an emotional Instagram message thanking supporters and confirming Brittney Griner has been in Russia for weeks.
"My heart, our hearts, are all skipping beats every day that goes by," Cherelle Griner wrote. "I miss your voice. I miss your presence. You’re our person! There are no words to express this pain. I’m hurting, we’re hurting. We await the day to love on you as a family."
March 17, 2022: Pre-trial detainment extended
Russian state media reported earlier in the day that Griner's pre-trial detention had been extended until May 19. A U.S. State Department official told USA TODAY Sports the embassy in Moscow was being denied consular access.
March 23, 2022: Griner allowed to meet U.S. officials
Consular access is finally granted and State Department spokesman Ned Price said Griner was "in good condition."
'BG IS FREE': Emotional reactions to Brittney Griner's release
April 27, 2022: Trevor Reed freed
Reed appeared at a rally for Griner on June 9 in her hometown of Houston and advocated for the release of her and Whelan.
May 3, 2022: U.S. classifies Griner as 'wrongfully detained'
The U.S. State Department says that it has reclassified Brittney Griner as being "wrongfully detained" by the Russian government. Thus, Griner's case transfers to the Office of the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs within the State Department.
May 6, 2022: WNBA season begins
May 25, 2022: Cherelle Griner on 'Good Morning America'
Cherelle Griner goes on "Good Morning America" and tells Robin Roberts she wants President Joe Biden to act and bring her wife home.
"I just keep hearing, 'He has the power,' 'she's political pawn,'" Cherelle Griner said. "If they're holding her because they want you (Biden) to do something then I want you to do it."
May 27, 2022: Brittney Griner detained 100 days
The 100th day of Brittney Griner's detention in Russia.
June 13, 2022: State Dept. officials meet with Mercury
State Department officials, including those from the hostage affairs office, met with members of the Mercury concerning the Biden administration's efforts to secure her release.
June 27, 2022: Pre-trial detention extended 6 months
July 1, 2022: Trial begins
Russian legal experts characterized the trial as a "sham," but Griner's trial opened with two witness testimonies and the absence of two others.
July 4, 2022: Griner's letter to Biden released
Representatives for Griner shared a few lines from the hand-written note to Biden, including:
″…As I sit here in a Russian prison, alone with my thoughts and without the protection of my wife, family, friends, Olympic jersey, or any accomplishments, I’m terrified I might be here forever,” Griner wrote.
July 6, 2022: Biden, Harris call Cherelle Griner
Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris speak by phone with Cherelle Griner.
"The president called Cherelle to reassure her that he is working to secure Brittney’s release as soon as possible," the White House said in a statement.
July 7, 2022: Griner pleads guilty
Griner pleaded guilty to the drug charges, saying she had accidentally packed the cartridges into her luggage.
"I'd like to plead guilty, your honor. But there was no intent. I didn't want to break the law," Griner said in English, per Reuters.
The guilty plea was also a tool to secure a more lenient sentence, according to experts.
July 14, 2022: Griner receives support in courtroom
In court again, Griner at one point held up a photo of fellow WNBA players wearing her name and No. 42 on their uniforms in tribute during part of the 2022 All-Star Game.
The captain and general manager of UMMC Ekaterinburg also testified on behalf of Griner's character.
July 15, 2022: Lawyer argues Griner allowed to use marijuana
“The attending physician gave Brittney recommendations for the use of medical cannabis,” said her lawyer, Maria Blagovolina. “The permission was issued on behalf of the Arizona Department of Health.”
July 26, 2022: Brittney Griner's lawyers argue for cannabis use
Griner's lawyers questioned a narcologist who said cannabis could be used to treat chronic pain. Her team did not dispute that she should not have brought the vape cartridges and that they were accidentally packed.
July 27, 2022: U.S. makes 'substantial' offer for prisoner swap
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the United States made a proposal to bring home Griner and Paul Whelan, an American who has been in Russian custody since 2018 and is serving a 16-year sentence on espionage charges the U.S. disputes.
CNN reported that the U.S. offered Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer nicknamed "The Merchant of Death," for the prisoner swap.
"There is utility in sending clear, direct messages to the Russians on key priorities for us," Blinken said. "These include the return of Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan, and following through on the grain agreement."
July 29, 2022: Blinken speaks with Russian Foreign Minister
For the first time since Russia invaded Ukraine, Blinken connected with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. It was a "frank and direct conversation" regarding the release of Griner and Whelan. Lavrov and Russia responded by suggesting the U.S. keep the negotiations private.
Aug. 2, 2022: Prosecutors call narcotics expert
Griner's defense has pointed to a doctor's recommendation for medicinal cannabis use as to why Griner accidentally packed the cartridges. However, the state responded by calling on a narcotics expert who analyzed a sample of what authorities said they discovered.
Aug. 4, 2022: Griner convicted of drug possession and smuggling
Griner's six-month saga came to an end on Aug. 4 when she was officially convicted of drug possession and smuggling following a trial that lasted a little over a month. Russian prosecutors asked that she receive 9½ years in prison, and she was sentenced to nine years behind bars.
Sept. 5, 2022: Day 200 of detention
Griner filed an appeal after her sentencing and remains in her pre-trial detention facility in Moscow.
Oct. 25, 2022: Appeal denied
Griner's appeal of a nine-year prison sentence for drug possession was rejected by a Russian court. Griner did not appear in court, but appeared via video link from a penal colony where she is now housed.
Nov. 3, 2022: Griner meets with U.S. Embassy Officials
The White House says that that Griner met with U.S. embassy officials and that the government "made a significant offer to the Russians to resolve the current unacceptable and wrongful detentions of American citizens."
“We are told she is doing as well as can be expected under the circumstances,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said.
Nov. 9, 2022: Griner's move to penal colony announced
Griner's legal team announced Russia began moving Griner to a remote penal colony where she will begin serving her nine-year sentence while the U.S. continues to work for her release.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken tweeted, “We strongly protest the movement of Brittney Griner to a remote penal colony and the Russian government’s use of wrongful detentions. I am committed to bringing home Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan as soon as possible.”
Dec. 8, 2022: Brittney Griner freed
CBS News first reported that Russia and the U.S. had agreed to a prisoner swap, and President Biden later announced that Griner was freed and on her way back to the U.S.
In exchange, the U.S. released Bout back to Russia.
From the White House, Cherelle Griner said: “Today I’m just standing here overwhelmed with emotion. But the most important emotion I have right now is sincere gratitude for President Biden and his entire administration.”
"We never forgot about Brittney," Biden said. "I'm glad to be able to say Brittney is in good spirits. She's relieved to finally be heading home, and the fact remains that she's lost months of her life, experienced a needless trauma. She deserves space, privacy and time with her loved ones to recover and heal from her time being wrongfully detained."
Dec. 16, 2022
A week after her release, Griner said in a message posted on social media that she "intends to play basketball for the WNBA's Phoenix Mercury this season."
She also thanked fans for their encouragement while she was detained and thanked President Biden and the State Department. She also advocated for the release of Whelan.
Jan. 17, 2023
Griner makes her first public appearance since her return by surprising Phoenix area residents at a Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade.
Feb. 11, 2023
Griner attends the Waste Management Open and checks out the rowdy 16th hole.
Feb. 12, 2023
Griner attends Super Bowl 57, wearing a throwback No. 12 jersey in honor of former quarterback Randall Cunningham, while Cherelle wore a No. 92 Eagles jersey in honor of a former pass rusher, late Hall of Famer Reggie White.
April 11, 2023
Griner announces she will publish a memoir about her experiences in Russia. The book is expected to be released in the spring of 2024.
April 27, 2023
Griner met with the press for the first time and continued her advocacy for individuals the U.S. government classifies as wrongfully detained.
Griner says she will no longer play overseas professionally during the WNBA offseasons and would only play internationally for another chance of representing Team USA at an Olympic Games.
April 30, 2023
Griner accompanied CBS News to the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner in Washington, D.C.
May 1, 2023
Griner’s tour continued with an appearance at the Met Gala in New York.
May 12, 2023
Griner started a preseason game against the Sparks and finished with 10 points (6-for-8 from the free throw line) in 17 minutes.
May 19, 2023
ESPN airs Griner’s return in a matchup against the Sparks at 11 p.m. ET.
Contributing: Scooby Axson.
Follow Chris Bumbaca on Twitter @BOOMbaca.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Brittney Griner timeline: Look at WNBA star's past 18 months