Recently released basketball star Brittney Griner on Friday thanked President Joe Biden for securing her freedom from Russian captors and vowed to play in the upcoming WNBA season.
In her first comments since she was freed in a prisoner exchange last week, the Phoenix Mercury center wrote on Instagram that being in Russian custody for 10 months was an emotional "battle at every turn."
"I dug deep to keep my faith and it was the love from so many of you that helped keep me going," Griner wrote. "From the bottom of my heart, thank you to everyone for your help."
In addition to praising her wife, Cherelle Griner, family, friends, teammates, the medical staff at Fort Hood and her Russian legal team, Griner also cited "President Biden, Vice President Harris, Secretary Blinken and the entire Biden-Harris Administration" for a "special thank you."
She also promised to lend her name and efforts toward the cause of Paul Whelan, an American businessman and former Marine imprisoned in Russia on suspicion of spying.
"President Biden, you brought me home and I know you are committed to bringing Paul Whelan and all Americans home too. I will use my platform to do whatever I can to help you," Griner added.
"I also encourage everyone that played a part in bringing me home to continue their efforts to bring all Americans home. Every family deserves to be whole."
Phoenix tips off its 2023 season on May 19 and Griner left no doubt she'd be in uniform.
"I also want to make one thing very clear: I intend to play basketball for the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury this season, and in doing so, I look forward to being able to say ‘thank you’ to those of you who advocated, wrote, and posted for me in person soon," she wrote.
Griner, 32, is one of basketball's most decorated stars, with gold medals from the Rio and Tokyo Olympics and a WNBA ring from 2014. She's a six-time WNBA All-Star and two-time league Defensive Player of the Year.
Griner and other top players often spend the winters playing overseas, significantly adding to their modest WNBA earnings.
For years, Griner has been playing for UMMC Ekaterinburg in Russia and was traveling through Sheremetyevo Airport outside of Moscow on Feb. 17 when she was detained for allegedly having vape cartridges that contained oil derived from cannabis.
A week later, Russia launched its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, ushering a series of harsh economic sanctions against Moscow and suddenly making Griner a valuable bargaining chip for the Kremlin.
She was found guilty of drug charges and sentenced to more than nine years in prison on Aug. 4.
Then last week, in one of the highest-profile prisoner swaps between Moscow and Washington since the Cold War, Griner was released in exchange for arms dealer Viktor Bout, who had served 11 years of a 25-year sentence in the United States.
Griner's 6-foot-9 presence in the paint will cause nonstop headaches for Las Vegas Aces coach Becky Hammon — and the WNBA's 2022 coach of the year said she couldn't be happier about it.
"Her presence was missed at every turn last year. So I'm excited that she's back here. She's excited about playing basketball," Hammon told ESPN.
"Yes, we're excited to have BG back. No, I am not excited to game plan against her."
Sports psychology expert Rebecca Smith told NBC News she hopes Griner will thrive and simply "feel happy again" on the hardwood.
"For a lot of athletes who experience trauma, like the death of family member or death teammate, they dive in," said Smith, founder of Complete Performance Coaching. "That's their sense of normal, going back to practice, back to what they're good at and life feel happy again."