SAN ANTONIO — Gregg Popovich reacted to the news that WNBA star Brittney Griner is coming home after spending nine months in prison in Russia, expressing both joy and a reminder that work remains on the international stage.
"Like everyone else, it's joyful news for a whole lot of reasons. I guess she's coming to San Antonio from what I've seen in the media, to get checked out, but it's wonderful in so many different ways," Popovich told news media before Thursday's game against Houston. "At the same time, (like) she even said, having other people still being treated the way they are in so many different countries, it's still evident that there's a lot of work to be done to bring a lot more people home."
Griner was arrested at an airport in Russia last February with less than a gram of cannabis oil in vape cartridges. The two-time Olympic gold medalist was transferred to a penal colony recently.
President Joe Biden secured her release, agreeing to a prisoner swap that sent arms dealer Viktor Bout back to Russia.
“She’s safe, she’s on a plane, she’s on her way home," Biden said from the White House, where he was accompanied by Griner's wife, Cherelle, and administration officials.
U.S. Marine Paul Whelan remains imprisoned in Russia, charged with espionage.
“Sadly, for totally illegitimate reasons, Russia is treating Paul's case differently than Brittney's,” Biden said. “And while we have not yet succeeded at securing Paul's release, we are not giving up. We will never give up.”
Whelan's brother, David, said the Biden administration "made the right decision to bring Ms. Griner home, and to make the deal that was possible, rather than waiting for one that wasn’t going to happen.”
“As the family member of a Russian hostage, I can literally only imagine the joy she will have, being reunited with her loved ones, and in time for the holidays,” David Whelan said in a statement. “There is no greater success than for a wrongful detainee to be freed and for them to go home."