LeBron James backs off criticism of U.S. amidst backlash

by Jacob Fuller

Rob Maaddi, FISM News


LeBron James backed off his criticism of the United States’ handling of Brittney Griner’s arrest in Russia.

“Now, how can she feel like America has her back?” James said in a trailer released Tuesday for the latest episode of his talk show, “The Shop: Uninterrupted.” “I would be feeling like, ‘Do I even want to go back to America?'”

After James was criticized widely for his remarks, he wrote an explanation on Twitter: “My comments on “The Shop” regarding Brittney Griner wasn’t knocking our beautiful country. I was simply saying how she’s probably feeling emotionally along with so many other emotions, thoughts, etc inside that cage she’s been in for over 100+ days! Long story short #BringHerHome.”

Griner, a WNBA All-Star, was arrested in Moscow in February after the Russian Federal Customs Service allegedly discovered vape pen cartridges containing hashish oil in a bag that belonged to her. Griner pleaded guilty last week and will appear again in court on Thursday.

It’s not known when the episode featuring James’ critical comments was filmed. James says during the show, which airs on YouTube, that Griner has been detained for more than 110 days. She reached that mark in Russia almost five weeks ago.

Griner’s coach on the Phoenix Mercury, Vanessa Nygaard, criticized the United States government’s response to the case and used James as an example.

“If it was LeBron, he’d be home, right?” Nygaard told reporters. “It’s a statement about the value of women. It’s a statement about the value of a black person. It’s a statement about the value of a gay person. All of those things. We know it, and so that’s what hurts a little more.”

The 31-year-old Griner played in Russia during the WNBA’s offseason. Last week, she sent a handwritten letter to President Joe Biden.

“(As) I sit here in a Russian prison, alone with my thoughts and without the protection of my wife, family, friends, Olympic jersey, or any accomplishments, I’m terrified I might be here forever,” she wrote, according to a statement released by the Griner family through a communications representative.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said the federal government will continue to work for the release of Griner, as well as other Americans held by Moscow, including former Marine Paul Whelan.

“We will not relent until Brittney, Paul Whelan, and all other wrongfully detained Americans are reunited with their loved ones,” Blinken tweeted last week.

The WNBA honored Griner last week at the league’s All-Star game. All-Stars wore Griner’s name and her No. 42 on the back of their jerseys for the second half of Team Wilson’s 134-112 victory over Team Stewart.

James’ show will air on Friday. He’s used the platform to address several controversial topics in the past. In 2018, James labeled NFL owners a bunch of “old white men” and accused them of acting like slave masters.

He defended China when former Houston Rockets executive Daryl Morey, who is currently with the Philadelphia 76ers, spoke out in support of Hong Kong freedom activists.

After James’ initial comments on Griner, Outkick.com host and television commentator Clay Travis tweeted, “LeBron James says if he was Brittany Griner he wouldn’t want to come back to the United States because she’s been in Russian prison too long. LeBron on virtually every issue other than basketball is an idiot.”

Washington Times columnist Tim Young tweeted, “LeBron James says if he were Brittney Griner, he’d question returning to the United States. 2 things: 1. He’s free to leave at any point… Why not China since he loves the CCP? 2. There’s no rush to decide now. She’s got 10 years to think about it.”