Brittney Griner received a triumphant welcome Saturday night at the NAACP Image Awards.
The WNBA star and her wife Cherelle Griner made a surprise appearance at the awards show in Pasadena, Calif., when host Queen Latifah welcomed them on stage.
“As we gather here tonight in the spirit of overcoming adversity, I want to take this moment to recognize someone who has done just that,” Queen Latifah told the audience.
In one of her first public appearances since she was released from a Russian prison on Dec. 8, the two-time Olympic gold medalist urged the nation to continue to push for the release of Americans detained abroad.
“It feels so good to be here, especially with my beautiful, amazing wife and with all of y’all here today. I want to thank everyone,” Griner said. “Let’s keep fighting to bring home every American still detained overseas.”
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That moment when Brittney Griner and her wife Cherelle Griner took the stage at the 54th #NAACPImageAwards to roaring applause.?? pic.twitter.com/lDkqHWokrR
— NAACP (@NAACP) February 26, 2023
Cameras panned to the live audience and showed Serena Williams, Ben Crump, Tracee Ellis Ross, Jonathan Majors, Gabrielle Union, Dwyane Wade, and many others standing and cheering Griner on.
The professional basketball player was arrested at Moscow Airport in February 2022.
She had traveled to Russia to play in the off-season, but was detained on drug charges after customs officials said they found vape cartridges containing oil derived from cannabis in her luggage.
Griner’s attorney told a Russian court the Phoenix Mercury player was prescribed medical cannabis by a doctor in the U.S. to treat chronic pain.
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The arrest came just days before Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022. The U.S. government said Griner was “wrongfully detained” and her arrest was politically motivated.
Still, she was convicted and ordered to serve 9 years in a Russian penal colony, before returning to the U.S. Her release was part of a prisoner swap for convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, negotiated by the Biden administration.
During the time she was incarcerated, the U.S. State Department, as well as the WNBA, fans, civil rights groups, and NBA stars LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Steph Curry lobbied for her release.
While on stage at the NAACP Image Awards, Griner’s wife expressed gratitude to supporters.
“We are just truly so thankful to all the people, many of whom are Black women and Black-led organizations, who fought so hard to bring BG home,” she said.