Lakers star LeBron James has not commented on the outrageous nine-year sentence given to WNBA star Brittney Griner by the Russian government for possessing cannabis. He last spoke about Griner on his show, The Shop on HBO, last month—before Griner was sentenced—but he’s still taking flack for his response to the situation.
Most recently, it was from Barstool Sports founder Dave Portnoy, who wrote on Twitter that James was among the “fools” who criticized the U.S. for not ensuring that Griner was brought home.
Portnoy wrote: “This story is ridiculous and sad. What’s more ridiculous is fools (like Lebron) who somehow blame the United States. It’s stories like these that should make everybody realize despite how f***ed up this country can be at times how lucky we are to live here.”
When James spoke on the subject, he wondered how Griner must feel about being abandoned in a foreign country, and whether she’d want to come back to the U.S. after that.
“I was trying to imagine it and it’s hard for me to even put myself into what she’s going through,” James said on The Shop. “Like she’s such a great human being. A great person. Obviously, I’ve been in her presence a few times. You always feel like, you know, if you’re from a certain place, you always feel like they’ve got your back. And, in a sense, now, how could she feel like America has her back? I would be feeling like, ‘Do I even want to go back to America?’ If I’ve been gone for over 130 days. And I felt like it’s been zero effort.”
James Clarified Shop Comments on Griner
James got backlash at the time for those comments, and attempted to walk them back in a social media post.
He wrote on Twitter: “My comments on ‘The Shop’ regarding Brittney Griner wasn’t knocking our beautiful country,” James wrote on social media. “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 was jailed in Russia on February 17, just days before the country began its war with the Ukraine. She had been flying into the country for her WNBA offseason stint with BC UMMC Ekaterinburg in Yekaterinburg, part of the Russian Premier League.
James Often Compared to Griner
James, too, has repeatedly been held up as a comparison to Griner for those advocating for the U.S. government to do more to bring Griner home.
Former NBA center turned LeBron James troll Enes Kanter suggested that James exchange himself for Griner, writing on Twitter, “Keep taking your freedom for granted.”
Last month, Griner’s coach with the Phoenix Mercury, Vanessa Nygaard, slammed the U.S. government for its inaction on the situation, saying, “If it was LeBron, he’d be home, right?.”
That’s been a much-repeated sentiment. Former NBA assistant coach (now head coach of the Las Vegas Aces) Becky Hammon, who gained Russian citizenship and played for the Russian national team in the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, implored president Vladimir Putin to “do the right thing,” this week, and added the comparison to James.
“It’s hard to imagine, though, that if this was, you know, LeBron James, that he’d still be sitting over there in a jail cell. Maybe he could be. Maybe not. I don’t know. But it’s hard not to let your mind go there,” Hammon said in an interview with Reuters,