Chris Mosier holds a sign about Brittney Griner during the first half in Game 1 of a WNBA basketball first-round playoff series between the New York Liberty and the Chicago Sky, Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2022, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

WNBA star and Houston native Brittney Griner has been released from her Russian imprisonment after the US and Russia agreed to a prisoner swap.

The two opposing countries agreed to exchange convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout in exchange for Griner’s freedom last week and she was released into US custody late Wednesday night. President Biden signed off on the trade that took place in the United Arab Emirates. The two-time Olympic champion landed in San Antonio early Friday morning.

Griner, who has cut off her signature dreadlocks, is expected to undergo a physical and mental evaluation before she can return to her home in Phoenix.

“She is safe, she is on a plane, she is on her way home after months of being unjustly detained in Russia, held under intolerable circumstances,” Biden said, while flanked by Vice President Kamala Harris and Griner’s wife, Cherelle on Thursday morning. “Brittney will soon be back in the arms of her loved ones and should have been there all along.”

It’s a one-for-one prisoner exchange which means former Marine Paul Whelan remains imprisoned in Russia. This is believed to be the highest-profile prisoner swap between Moscow and the US since the Cold War.

Griner’s wife, Cherrelle has been her biggest and loudest advocate during this ordeal since it all started last spring and she was quite relieved to know Griner is finally headed home.

“The most important emotion I have right now is just sincere gratitude for President Biden and his entire administration,” Cherelle said.

Griner, 32, was sentenced to nine years in a Russian prison this past summer after being found to have less than an ounce of cannabis oil in her luggage at an airport near Moscow as she attempted to board a flight to return home in February.

The US and Griner’s family had been unsure of her whereabouts for weeks after she was initially taken into police custody in Moscow. From there it took months to get her to trial, and even then communication and transparency were lacking.

Since the former Nimitz and Baylor star’s sentence, she had lost her appeal of the nine-year sentence. She was moved to a penal colony last month which is where Griner was believed to have been held until the exchange was announced. Griner had played in Russia for years during her offseason with the WNBA, reportedly making as much as $1 million per season.

“There has not been a day over the past ten months where we all haven’t had Brittney Griner on our minds and in our hearts and that has now turned into a collective wave of joy and relief knowing that she will soon be reunited with her family, the WNBA player community, and her friends,” said WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert. “BG has shown extraordinary courage and dignity in the face of enormous adversity.  The WNBA is grateful beyond measure to the Biden Administration, the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs, and all those who played a role in bringing BG home today.  Our hope is that Paul Whelan and every wrongfully detained American will be returned home safely and as soon as possible.”

“Brittney has had to endure an unimaginable situation and we’re thrilled that she is on her way home to her family and friends,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in a released statement.  “We thank the members of the NBA and WNBA community who never wavered in their efforts to raise awareness of Brittney’s unjust circumstances.”

Griner’s imprisonment had been made complicated because of Russia’s war on Ukraine and the US’s opposition to it and support of Ukraine. She was viewed by the US as wrongfully detained and essentially a prisoner of war because Russian President Vladimir Putin was angry that the US leveled sanctions against his country while supporting Ukraine with arms and money to fight the war.

“This is a day we worked hard for, for a long time,” Biden said. “We never stopped pushing for her release. It took painstaking and intense negotiations and I want to thank all of the hard-working public servants across my administration who worked tirelessly to secure her release.”

Griner is now in US custody but before she will be returned home and to her family, she will have to go through physical and mental evaluations by US doctors.

Follow Terrance Harris on Twitter @terranceharris