Brittney Griner Hoped Paul Whelan Would Be Released with Her: 'No One Should Be Left Behind'

Griner detailed her 10-month imprisonment in a sit-down interview with Robin Roberts while also expressing disappointment that Paul Whelan is still detained

<p>ABC/MICHAEL LE BRECHT II</p> Brittney Griner and Robin Roberts


Brittney Griner and Robin Roberts

Brittney Griner couldn't help but think about those left behind as she learned she would be released from a Russian prison.

In an exclusive interview with Robin Roberts for the ABC News special 20/20: Prisoner of Russia, which aired on May 1, the two-time Olympic gold medalist recalled a letter she received informing her that she would soon be going home.

“It said, ‘Be ready to leave,’ and I saw that paper and I was so thrilled,” the WNBA player told Roberts, 63.

Related: After Brittney Griner's Release, Paul Whelan's Family Continues Fighting to Bring Him Home

Griner said once she got on the airplane, she “had no idea” where she was headed or where the prisoner trade would be, but she was even more surprised to see that Paul Whelan was not a passenger on the plane.


The former U.S. Marine has now spent over five years in Russian detention after being accused of spying.

“When I walked on and I didn’t see him, I was like, ‘Okay, maybe I’m early. Maybe he’s next,’” the basketball star said. “And when they closed the door, I was like, ‘Are you seriously not gonna let this man come home right now?’”

Roberts also asked Griner how she felt about people saying her release in exchange for “the person known as ‘The Merchant of Death’” was an unfair trade.

Related: Brittney Griner Says She Felt Her Life 'Crumbling' Away When She Realized She Brought Cannabis Oil to Russia

“If it was left up to me, in that trade, I woulda went and got Paul and brought him home,” the athlete replied. “But any time we can bring home an American, that is a win for Americans.”

In clips from the interview shared earlier Wednesday, Griner described feeling like her life was "crumbling" away when she realized that she had accidentally taken a cannabis oil cartridge into Russia.

Speaking to Roberts, Griner said she remembered being "late getting up" on the morning of her arrest and going into "panic mode" to get everything in order. "I'm never late getting up," she said.

KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP via Getty Brittney Griner
KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP via Getty Brittney Griner

As the clip continued, Roberts asked Griner to recall the moment she "reached down" in her bag and "felt the cartridge" when Russian airport security asked to search her things.

Griner remembered thinking, "Oh my God, how did I make this mistake? How was I this absent-minded?" She said it was at that very moment that she "could just visualize everything I worked so hard for crumbling and going away," after she was arrested.

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Related: Brittney Griner Working to Join USA Team for Paris Olympics Following Her Russian Detainment

In her upcoming memoir Coming Home, Griner detailed her imprisonment in Russia and how the global #WeAreBG movement, created by fans and supporters to shed light on her case, helped her.

Griner was initially sentenced to nine years in a Russian prison before she was released in a one-for-one prisoner swap for international arms dealer Viktor Bout on Dec. 8 and returned to the U.S. a day later.

20/20: Prisoner of Russia, airs May 1 at 10 p.m. ET on ABC.

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