Pistons react to Brittney Griner’s release from Russia: ‘It’s a blessing’

Detroit News

Memphis — Detroit Pistons coach Dwane Casey has joined the list of NBA coaches and players sharing their opinions on the release of WNBA superstar Brittney Griner after being imprisoned in Russia for nearly 10 months.

“I definitely wanted to say how happy myself and the organization is about Brittney Griner being free from her situation,” Casey said ahead of Friday’s loss to the Memphis Grizzlies. “Back in the states, back at home, back with her family. It’s a blessing.”

Griner, who was arrested at a Moscow airport in February on drug charges and later sentenced to nine years in prison, returned to the United States on Friday. Her release was part of a prisoner exchange between the U.S. and Russia for convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout.

Griner’s release was met with mixed reaction throughout the country because the deal did not include fellow detainee Paul Whelan, who was arrested in Russia on December 28, 2018, and accused of spying. He is currently serving a 16-year prison sentence.

“We know we still have a lot of work to do to get Paul Whelan back, and all our other American citizens,” Casey added. “We have many over there, but I know our government and President (Joe) Biden will do a good job. His administration will work to get Paul Whelan back. But we’re so excited, and the NBA family, we’re so excited to have Brittney back amongst us.”

Casey joins a handful of coaches to comment on Griner’s release, including former Piston and Portland coach Chauncey Billups, Saginaw native and Los Angeles Lakers coach Darvin Ham, Golden State’s Steve Kerr, San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich and Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins, who also made a statement before Friday’s game.

“Super exciting moment yesterday,” Jenkins said. “It’s obviously terrible what has transpired over the last couple of months. We had a great conversation as a team privately. Yesterday, when we got the news first thing in the morning, the guys were super ecstatic. Everyone was wearing Brittney Griner hoodies, talking amongst themselves, understanding the platform we had to continue to bring awareness, but there were so many other people that were doing all the legwork to get her home and doing what was right.”

Jalen Duren, who made his first career NBA start on Friday, has supported Griner’s release throughout her detainment.

The Pistons rookie center missed three games earlier this season due to an ankle sprain. During a home game against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Nov. 4, Duren used his wardrobe to send a message. He wore a black T-shirt with orange lettering that displayed “We Are BG.”

The 19-year-old Duren was elated to learn of Griner’s release, even though the two have never met.

“Super excited,” Duren told The Detroit News. “I don’t know her personally, but just as a country, as a basketball player, as an athlete. Shoutout to the government. She was going through something that was super unfortunate so I wanted to show my support in any way possible, so to see her finally be free is amazing.”

Griner, 32, has compiled a Hall of Fame-worthy basketball career, which includes an Olympic gold medal, a WNBA championship with the Phoenix Mercury (2014), six All-Star appearances and an NCAA title with Baylor in 2012.

“I think it’s huge not only for basketball and the game, but huge for our country because I feel like as a whole we all came together,” Duren said. “You saw everybody saying ‘Free Brittney Griner.’ That’s just a moment in history when we all came together to help somebody else.”

mcurtis@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @MikeACurtis2

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