LeBron James critical of United States' efforts to bring Brittney Griner home from Russia

ByDave McMenamin ESPN logo
Wednesday, July 13, 2022

As Brittney Griner's detention in Russia has galvanized the sports world in support of the WNBA star's return to the United States, Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James questioned why Griner would want to return to a country that has taken so much time to aid in a resolution for her.

"Now, how can she feel like America has her back?" James said in a trailer for the latest episode of his talk show, "The Shop: Uninterrupted," which airs on YouTube. "I would be feeling like, 'Do I even want to go back to America?'"

James later tweeted Tuesday that his comments were not meant to disrespect "our beautiful country" but that he was stating how Griner was "probably feeling emotionally along with so many other emotions, thoughts, etc inside that cage she's been in for over 100+ days!"

Griner was arrested in Moscow in February after the Russian Federal Customs Service allegedly discovered vape pen cartridges containing hashish oil in a bag that belonged to her. Last week, Griner pleaded guilty to drug possession and will appear in court again Thursday.

In early June, shortly after the U.S. State Department classified Griner's plight as a wrongful detention, James tweeted in support of the seven-time All-Star.

James' Uninterrupted multimedia platform is also selling T-shirts with "We Are BG" printed on the front, with Uninterrupted's online store stating that the proceeds from the merchandise will go to The BG Advocacy Fund, run by Griner's family to cover legal costs associated with her release.

It is unclear when the episode, which will debut in its entirety Friday, was filmed. In the trailer, James mentions that Griner has been detained for more than 110 days -- Griner's timeline in Russia hit the 110-day mark nearly five weeks ago.

Last week, Griner's coach on the Phoenix Mercury, Vanessa Nygaard, evoked James' name in making a point about the country's slow response to the center's detainment.

"If it was LeBron, he'd be home, right?" Nygaard told reporters. "It's a statement about the value of women. It's a statement about the value of a Black person. It's a statement about the value of a gay person. All of those things. We know it, and so that's what hurts a little more."

At the WNBA All-Star Game in Chicago this past weekend, every player donned a jersey with Griner's last name and No. 42 emblazoned on it for the second half of the competition.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver, speaking Tuesday night after his league's board of governors meeting in Las Vegas, reiterated that the NBA and WNBA are "doing everything in our power" to bring Griner home.

"I'm accepting that the administration is doing everything they can right now," Silver said. "There are some seriously complex geopolitical issues here. And I'm sure as invariably as they are more focused on Brittney, there are other families who are of course concerned about their loved ones who are being held against their will in Russia right now. ... There are very difficult issues that the Biden administration has to face in terms of what's appropriate."

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said Washington will continue to work for the release of Griner, as well as other Americans held by Moscow, including former Marine Paul Whelan.

"We will not relent until Brittney, Paul Whelan, and all other wrongfully detained Americans are reunited with their loved ones,'' he tweeted last week.

National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said Monday that former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson had been in contact with the National Security Council, but wouldn't comment on his travel or what he intends to do. A source told ABC News that Richardson plans to travel to Russia and work on Griner's release.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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