WNBA star Brittney Griner is home recovering with her family, but details about her state of mind during her flight home from the prisoner swap in the United Arab Emirates are being revealed. During an interview Monday on CNN’s State of the Union, Roger Carstens, the special presidential envoy for hostage affairs—who was involved in getting the WNBA champion released and accompanied her on the plane back to the U.S.—discussed Brittney’s trip home.
The ambassador said once the two-time Olympic gold medalist was on the plane, he told her she was free to relax and “decompress,” but the basketball star replied, “I have been in prison for 10 months now, listening to Russian. I want to talk. But, first of all, who are these guys?”
“She moved right past me and went to every member on that crew, looked them in the eyes, shook their hands and asked about them, got their names, making a personal connection with them,” Carstens said. “It was really amazing.”
Though he didn’t reveal details of their conversation, Carstens said Brittney spent 12 hours of the 18 hour flight talking about her time in a Russian prison. The diplomat also emphasized how personable and grateful the eight-time WNBA All-Star was.
“I was left with the impression this is an intelligent, passionate, compassionate, humble, interesting person, a patriotic person,” he said. “But above all, authentic. I hate the fact that I had to meet her in this manner, but I actually felt blessed having had a chance to get to know her.”
Carstens also said that the Houston native appeared to be in good physical condition, though she did undergo medical evaluation upon her return. One major difference supporters will notice is the absence of the WNBA star’s signature locs. According to ESPN, Griner’s attorney Maria Blagovolina explained that during her detainment, her hair was constantly freezing after she washed it. So Brittney chose to cut her locs to prepare for the long Russian winter.
“It’s very cold in there and every time she washed her hair she got cold and would get a chill,” Blagovolina told ESPN. “She should have waited until New Year’s Day.”
The Baylor alum is easing her way back into normal activities and for Griner that means having an informal basketball workout. Per ESPN, on Sunday at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas, the first thing she did was pick up the ball and dunk. Despite this light activity, there is no rush for Griner to return to the court.
“If she wants to play, it will be for her to share. She has the holidays to rest and decide what’s next without any pressure,” Griner’s agent Lindsay Kagawa Colas said. “She’s doing really, really well. She seems to have endured this in pretty incredible ways.”
Colas’ sentiments were echoed by Phoenix Mercury president Vince Kozar, who told ESPN, “We’re not thinking about basketball. Our main concern is her, and—as I’ve told people before—if she never plays another game of basketball, another minute of WNBA basketball again, we will still love her and care for her all the same, and nothing about how we feel about her or what she means to us, or this city or her family or any of that will change.”
Whether or not she returns to basketball is completely up to Brittney Griner, but that first moment back in front of a crowd, even if it’s just to watch a game, will be a truly special moment that I cannot wait to see.