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Brittney Griner Credits Wife Cherelle for Getting Her Through "Hardest" Part of Her Life

After being detained in Russia for the better part of 2022, two-time Olympian Brittney Griner has her best days ahead.

By Chris Phelan

It's been an up-and-down past few years for two-time Olympic gold medal-winner Brittney Griner, but thankfully, she has nothing but positive vibes ahead.

If you haven't been following the unbelievable story of Griner ahead of the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris, leave it to us at NBC Insider to give you a crash course on one of the most celebrated athletes in Olympic history. From an incredible college basketball career to a controversial international incident, here's everything you need to know about Brittney Griner. 

Brittney Griner's Basketball Career, From College to the WNBA

Brittney Griner, Skylar Diggins and Diana Taurasi pose during the medal ceremony for the 2020 olympics

Griner's collegiate career can be summed up in one word: dominant. As one of the tallest basketball players in history (she stands at 6-feet,7-inches), Griner's accomplishments are as varied as they are impressive.

She's a three-time NCAA Division I Defensive Player of the Year. In 2012, she led Baylor University to the National Championship, going undefeated along the way. Griner holds the all-time NCAA Tournament record with 14 blocked shots in a single game. She was the 2012 Final Four Most Outstanding Player, became only the second woman in college basketball history to dunk twice in one game, and was the first pick in the 2013 WNBA Draft by the Phoenix Mercury.

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It's easy to say that Griner had one of the most remarkable careers a college basketball player could have. But her success didn't stop there.

Brittney Griner's time in the WNBA has been more of the same. She's been with the Phoenix Mercury for her entire career, and in 2014, she helped lead the team to a WNBA Championship. She has nine All-Star Game appearances under her belt, and, perhaps most notably, she was named to the WNBA 25th Anniversary Team in 2021, a prestigious distinction given only to the greatest players in league history.

However, in early 2022, Griner found herself in the middle of one of the most controversial international calamities in recent history.

Russian Detention

Brittney Griner appears in her #42 Phoenix Mercury jersey.

On February 17, 2022, at a Moscow-area airport on her way to join her WNBA offseason professional team, UMMC Yekaterinburg, Griner was thrown a curve ball of a lifetime. Russian police detained her for suspicion of carrying drugs — trace amounts of cannabis oil, to be exact.

What should have been a non-story quickly turned into an international incident. Griner was found guilty of attempting to smuggle narcotics into the country and sentenced to nine years in a Russian prison camp. This decision outraged Americans on both sides of the political spectrum. It furthered an already contemptuous relationship between the United States and Russia, to say the least.

What happened in that prison camp has been covered ad nauseum. What matters is that after nearly a year of negotiations between the respective governments, Griner was finally released and returned home to the United States after ten harrowing months, according to NBC News.

"It feels so good to be home! The last 10 months have been a battle at every turn. I dug deep to keep my faith and it was the love from so many of you that helped keep me going. From the bottom of my heart, thank you to everyone for your help," she wrote in a statement shared to social media.

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Thankfully for Griner (and her friends, family, and fans), the worst was over. Within a week of her return, Griner returned to doing what she does best. Reports quickly emerged that she was preparing for a return to the WNBA — and that's exactly what she did, quickly returning to form and averaging 17.5 points per game during the 2023 season. It's like she picked up where she left off.

However, Griner has some apprehension when it comes to playing abroad, which used to be a necessity to pay the bills. Griner notes in her forthcoming memoir Coming Home that she does not currently feel the need to travel to other countries, even for a vacation. That being said, she's expressed interest in joining the U.S. Women's Team for the 2024 Olympics.

"I [know] the same country that brought me home would protect its Olympic athletes," she wrote in her book, per People.

How Her Wife Cherelle — and Future Child — Are Motivating Her

Brittney Griner and Cherelle Griner pose in match white outfits.

On April 14, 2024, Griner took to social media to make an announcement most prospective parents dream about: her wife, Cherelle, was pregnant with their first child.

The couple's baby is due in July, and we have complete confidence that Baby Griner will be loved like no other by two incredibly supportive parents. In fact, Griner herself credits her wife Cherelle for being her rock and supporting her, even when she was at her lowest. In an interview with The Cut on May 6, Griner revealed their communication while she was incarcerated in Russia.

"When I got sentenced to nine years, I wrote her a letter," she recalled. "I'm a realist. I was just like, 'Nine years is a long time, babe. I get it,' basically giving her an out. I asked, 'Can you still be my friend? Write me.' She shot that down so quick. She was like, 'Don't ever write anything like that again.' She never wavered."

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Talk about dedication to your spouse. Forget about "in sickness and in health," Griner's wife subscribes to "in sickness, in health, and in Russian imprisonment."

Unsurprisingly, Griner calls being separated from Cherelle for those ten months as one of the most emotionally challenging times of her life.

"Being away from her was probably one of the hardest things ever," she confessed. "We've known each other 12 or 13 years now. Been married for five of them. We've been through highs, lows, good, and bad, and she's always been there for me."

With a baby on the way, the all-time NCAA Division I leader in career blocked shots represents all first-time parents when she confesses what her upcoming parenting strategy will look like. 

"For me, honestly, just trying to make the least amount of mistakes as a parent," she admitted.

We have a feeling she'll have nothing to worry about.

Be sure to watch live coverage of the Opening Ceremony on Friday, July 26, on NBC and Peacock beginning at 12 p.m. ET. Telemundo will provide Spanish-language coverage beginning at 1 p.m. ET. Primetime coverage starts at 7:30 p.m. ET/PT on NBC and Peacock