On the one-year anniversary of Brittney Griner's release from Russian custody, ESPN published a lengthy, detailed story on the WNBA star's arrest, her time in prison and the efforts to bring her home.
Griner, a nine-time all-Star with the Phoenix Mercury, spent 10 months in Russian custody after authorities found vape cartridges filled with cannabis oil in her bag at the airport nearly two years ago. Her subsequent arrest and detention made her a key figure in the complicated relationship between the U.S. and Russia, which at the time had just started its war in Ukraine.
Griner, 33, and her wife Cherelle declined to speak with ESPN but a wide range of others did, including Viktor Bout, the arms dealer who was ultimately included in the prisoner swap that secured Griner's release.
Here are three fascinating moments and details from ESPN's incredibly thorough report.
What was said between Griner, Bout at prisoner swap
Bout told ESPN that when he first saw Griner on the tarmac at an Abu Dhabi airport, he was a bit surprised by her appearance — namely that she had cut off her dreadlocks while imprisoned in Russia.
An unnamed U.S. official who was on the tarmac told the network that Griner saw Bout, expressed a desire to meet him and said something to the effect of, "Viktor, what's up?"
"I just wished her good luck and shook her hand," Bout confirmed to ESPN.
Russian authorities later released video of the swap despite agreeing not to do so, according to ESPN's report, but the handshake was edited out of that footage.
Griner's time in prison
One of Griner's Russian attorneys told ESPN that the WNBA star was extremely popular with other inmates during her time in prison. "Everybody loved her all along the way," the attorney, Alexander Boykov, told the network.
Boykov also said that when Griner was moved to a women's prison camp, she was assigned to work in a sewing shop, making uniforms for other prisoners. She also worked as part of a crew that used metal rods to break up chunks of ice on the walkways outside.
"At one point, sources said, guards asked her if she could knock icicles down from the eaves — she was the only person tall enough to reach," ESPN reported.
Russian basketball player Yevgenia Belyakova told ESPN she visited her teammate in prison and brought her a can of Pringles, which Griner had "begged for," and that she was hooked on a Russian TV drama, "Kitchen."
Sports figures get involved
ESPN's story features exhaustive details on the various efforts to secure Griner's release on multiple fronts, from the White House and State Department to the U.S. media ecosystem.
It also includes passing mention of sports figures who played a role behind-the-scenes.
Terri Jackson, executive director of the Women's National Basketball Players Association, identified Carmelo Anthony and Doc Rivers as among the NBA partners who were most adamant about raising awareness of Griner's situation. Jackson also singled out Grant Williams, whom she said drove the Boston Celtics to wear "We are BG" shirts before a game and spoke out about Griner when it was needed.
ESPN also reported that, as part of a broader attempt to find someone close to Russian president Vladimir Putin who could advocate for Griner's release, her agent Lindsay Kagawa Colas contacted Dana White to see if he could connect her with Russian-born fighter Khabib Nurmagomedov. White then contacted former president Donald Trump, according to the report, and relayed to Colas that Trump was thinking about getting involved. (ESPN said White did not respond to requests for comment.)
Griner documentary in the works
ESPN's story was published one day after the network announced it had entered into an exclusive partnership with Griner "to share her story through various projects," including a documentary feature and scripted series.
"The last two years have been the most harrowing, transformative and illuminating period of my life, and I am grateful to be in a place now to share my story with the world," Brittney Griner said in a news release. "I’m proud to partner with ESPN and Disney to share this very personal story because of its incredible potential to inspire hope around the world and their proven ability to do just that."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 3 revelations from ESPN Brittney Griner report on Russian imprisonment