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Brittney Griner says she's 'never going overseas' again after her detention

During a press conference in Phoenix, Arizona on Thursday, Brittney Griner told reporters she wasn't planning to play overseas again unless she was invited to the Olympics.
Christian Petersen
Getty Images
During a press conference in Phoenix, Arizona on Thursday, Brittney Griner told reporters she wasn't planning to play overseas again unless she was invited to the Olympics.

Brittney Griner, the WNBA star who spent 10 months in Russian detention, said her days of playing in international leagues are over.

"I'm never going overseas to play again unless I'm representing my country at the Olympics," she said on Thursday, as part of her first press conference since she was released in December. "You know, if I make that team, that would be the only time I would leave the U.S. soil."

The meeting with national and local press was held to discuss Griner's return to court ahead of the upcoming WNBA season with the Phoenix Mercury.

But it was also the first chance for many reporters to ask the star center about being arrested by Russian airport security on charges of drug smuggling last February. Griner was held in detention for 10 months before the U.S. negotiated her release in exchange for convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout.

She took to the stage in Phoenix wearing a black T-shirt from the Bring our Families Home campaign.

"Ooh, a little different than a basketball press conference. A lot of media in here," she said with a laugh.

And while Griner kept up the light air throughout the half-hour session, she couldn't fight back tears when the first reporter asked about how she stayed resilient during her imprisonment.

"Just digging deep, honestly," Griner said. "I know this sounds so small, but, you know, dying in practice and hard workouts. You find a way to just grind it out. Just put your head down and just keep moving forward. You know, you can never stand still."

She didn't share many details about her detention, with Mercury staff warning reporters of security concerns. But she did say that, even in the isolation of a foreign prison, she was aware of the support from fans and the push from U.S. officials to bring her home.

"It made me a little bit more comfortable," she said. "It made me a little bit ... have hope, which is a really hard thing to have. It's a dangerous thing to have. Because, you know, when it doesn't work, it's so crushing."

She and the Mercury will be part of a campaign this season in support of other Americans detained overseas, including former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, whom negotiators tried to include in the swap that brought Griner home, and Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, who was detained in late March.

But Griner said she's also just relishing the feeling of having a basketball back in her hand.

When she takes the court as the new season kicks off next month, she hopes that more people watch than ever before to facilitate the end of basketball's gender pay gap.

"I think that's a big reason why a lot of people go overseas. That's why I was there," she said. "As much as I'd love to pay my light bill for a love of the game, I can't."

NPR's Tom Goldman contributed to this report.

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Emily Olson
Emily Olson is on a three-month assignment as a news writer and live blog editor, helping shape NPR's digital breaking news strategy.