Steph Curry thanked Brittney Griner for her “sacrifice” after the WNBA star and double Olympic gold medallist was released from Russian prison on Thursday.

Griner officially arrived back in the United States in the early hours of Friday as part of a prisoner swap that saw former arms dealer Viktor Bout head back to Russia after spending 12 years behind bars in America.

The 32-year-old had been sentenced to nine years in prison on charges of possessing and smuggling drugs having pleaded guilty after customs agents found vape canisters containing cannabis oil in her luggage at a Moscow airport in February.

The Phoenix Mercury center had originally been travelling to Russia to play for UMKC Ekaterinburg as one of multiple players that ply their trade overseas during the WNBA offseason.

“We are glad she’s home, we’re glad she’s reunited with her family,” said four-time NBA champion Curry while speaking at the 2022 Sports Illustrated’s Sportsperson of the Year Awards.

“It’s a constant reminder for everybody continuing to use their platforms to speak on issues that are meaningful and can move the needle. Thank you to President Biden’s administration for being a part of that fight.

“But, it’s also a reminder that we all need to stay engaged in the fight to protect American citizens at home and abroad who are wrongfully detained, and we can continue to be engaged in that fight.

“BG, we love you. We thank you for your sacrifice and your continued perseverance and patience to get through this process, and hope you enjoy reuniting with your family. We are always with you, BG.”

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said he was “thrilled” that Griner was on her way home after enduring an “unimaginable situation”, praising the NBA and WNBA communities for their support across the last year.

Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving paid tribute to Griner for ‘exemplifying true warrior spirit’, while Phoenix Suns head coach Monty Williams said the news of her release “put a smile on everybody’s face”.

The NBPA (National Basketball Players Association) released a statement celebrating the return of Griner while reminding of others enduring similar experiences across the world.

“We are overwhelmed with relief and gratitude that our sister Brittney Griner is finally coming home. Her strength and courage throughout this last year have been truly remarkable, as have the efforts of her wife Cherelle, our WNBPA sisters, Terri Jackson and the WNBPA staff, who have been relentless in their call to bring Brittney home,” said the NBPA.

“We know this homecoming would not have been possible without their unwavering support and continued work to keep BG always top of mind, and our players are honored to have contributed to those efforts.

“While this is a celebratory moment for our sisters and us, we must not forget the other political prisoners who remain in dire circumstances all over the world. These individuals must be remembered and fought for every single day as BG was so that they too can have this moment.

“Welcome home Brittney, we are so happy to have you back!”

WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said there had “not been a day over the past 10 months” when Griner had not been on everybody’s mind, adding that the situation has now become “a collective wave of joy and relief” with the news that she is safely home with her loved ones.

“BG has shown extraordinary courage and dignity in the face of enormous adversity,” Engelbert added. “The WNBA is grateful beyond measure to the Biden Administration, the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs, and all those who played a role in bringing BG home today. Our hope is that Paul Whelan and every wrongfully detained American will be returned home safely and as soon as possible.”

The prisoner exchange to release Griner has prompted calls for added efforts to similarly secure the release of Paul Whelan, a former US marine who was sentenced to 16 years in prison in Moscow in 2018 having been convicted of espionage charges, which he strongly denies.

“We’ve not forgotten about Paul Whelan,” said President Biden. “We will keep negotiating in good faith for Paul’s release.”

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