Brittney Griner made a surprise appearance Monday at a Martin Luther King Jr. Day March in Phoenix, where she happily posed for pictures with fans — less than six weeks after being freed from a Russian penal colony.
The Phoenix Mercury star arrived at the event celebrating the civil rights icon’s 94th birthday with her wife Cherelle and appeared to be in high spirits.
Dressed in a casual ensemble consisting of black slacks, a matching hoodie and sneakers, Griner, 32, greeted well-wishers, who seemed excited to see the WNBA star in person for the first time since her return to the US following a high-profile prisoner exchange.
A beaming Griner — sporting a cropped haircut after having to chop off her signature dreadlocks because they would freeze every time she took a shower in prison — was quoted as telling the Phoenix news station 12 News that she was “glad to be home.”
The hoops superstar was also spotted riding on the back of a golf cart, with her arm protectively wrapped around her wife’s shoulder. The two were smiling and having an animated conversation.
Griner returned to the US in December after being swapped for convicted arms trafficker Viktor Bout, dubbed “the Merchant of Death,” who had been serving a 25-year sentence in a US prison.
Griner was initially detained in Moscow’s main airport in Feb. 2022 for being in possession of vape cartridges containing cannabis oil, which is prohibited in Russia.
Griner claimed she put the oil into her luggage unintentionally while packing in haste.
Last August, Griner was convicted of drug possession and smuggling, and sentenced to 9-and-a-half years in a Russian penal colony, where she had languished until the controversial prisoner exchange for Bout was finalized by American and Russian diplomats last month.
Griner was exchanged for Bout on the tarmac of an airport in the United Arab Emirates on Dec. 8 and was back on US soil the next day.
A week later, the two-time Olympic gold medalist issued her first public statement since regaining her freedom, writing in an Instagram post: “It feels so good to be home!”
“The last 10 months have been a battle at every turn,” she added. “I dug deep to keep my faith and it was the love from so many of you that helped keep me going.”