When the contentious worlds of Brittney Griner's detention in Russia and LeBron James' media empire intersect, all it takes is seven seconds to ignite a controversy.
In this case, it was James' media company Uninterrupted releasing a trailer Monday for an upcoming episode of its talk show "The Shop," in which the Los Angeles Lakers star discusses Griner, among other topics, with business partners Maverick Carter and Paul Rivera plus guests actor Daniel Kaluuya, artist Rashid Johnson and soccer star Marcus Rashford.
Midway through the 30-second trailer, Carter can be heard bringing the Phoenix Mercury star up, at which point James says, "Now, how could she feel like America has her back? I would be feeling like, 'Do I even want to go back to America?' "
Those two sentences were enough to spark widespread coverage and new debate over Griner's situation, in which she has recently pleaded guilty to charges stemming from her allegedly bringing hash oil cartridges into Russia. The U.S. government has classified Griner as "wrongfully detained" and is currently working to bring her back.
There was enough backlash to James' abbreviated comments that he tweeted he didn't mean to knock the U.S. hours after the trailer was released:
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
— LeBron James (@KingJames) July 13, 2022
Two days later, Uninterrupted tweeted out what it says is the full conversation about Griner, while noting it was filmed before "the White House's recent steps to bring BG home."
#TheShop was started for the real talk happening in our community, uninterrupted. We got people speaking about BG & need to keep ’em talking.
The louder we get for BG, the better.
Releasing full convo here, filmed before @WhiteHouse’s recent steps to bring BG home. #WeAreBG pic.twitter.com/cDDvcHmE8E
— UNINTERRUPTED (@uninterrupted) July 14, 2022
Below is everything that was said over the course of the 89-second clip.
Full transcript of LeBron James' comments on Brittney Griner
Carter: "I don't know how many of you have ever followed the Brittney Griner situation. Everybody follow that?"
Carter: "So there's a woman named Brittney Griner who's an amazing basketball player, amazing person. She was in Russia playing, the war broke out. On her way back flying home, they said she had some amount of hash, which is illegal in Russia. And she is in Russia. We don't really know where. She's been there—"
James: "Over 100, gotta be over 110 days."
Carter: "130 days or something like that. It's pretty f***ed up, what's going on."
James: "And the WNBA season has started and she's still ..."
Carter: "She has still not come back."
James: "She still hasn't come back."
Johnson: "But she's a superstar. I mean, we're talking about — This is the top of the top. This is LeBron of the WNBA."
Rivera: "You being you, LeBron James, have you thought of, like, what if it was you? You travel to Europe. You do these things. Have you put yourself there in terms of, like, man, what she must be going through or what that experience must be like?"
James: "I was trying to imagine it and it's hard for me to even put myself into what she's going through. 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."
That wasn't the end of the conversation, though, as there was more said on the full episode released Friday on YouTube:
Johnson: "I'm still shocked that we haven't heard more from the State Department and that we're not hearing this more often on the news or Biden. This is a significant kind of name in American sports. I know when it first happened, there was some concern, kinda like 'Could this resolve itself?' Maybe being too vocal actually cause more of a problem for her, but now I think we're recognizing that it's important for us to amplify our voices, to make sure that people know about the situation."
James: "Literally, as it's going on day by day, I can't not say anything and just try to get more people's ears, people's eyes and as much support as possible."
Carter is incorrect when he says Griner was detained as she was flying home from Russia. Griner was flying into Russia to play with her longtime Russian team UMMC Ekaterinburg. Top WNBA players typically spend part of their offseason playing overseas, which represents the majority of their incomes as players.
Griner was detained Feb. 17, seven days before Russia initiated its invasion of Ukraine, though the country had been speculated to be preparing for the attack for months.
Timing of LeBron James' Brittney Griner comments is unclear, but important
It also remains unclear when exactly James' comments were recorded. While the trailer suggested it had been "over 110 days," Carter says it had been around 130 days, which James later repeats.
The U.S. government classified Griner as wrongfully detained on May 3, 75 days after she was detained. Before then, Griner advocates were advised to avoid drawing attention to her case, in fear of giving Russia leverage in negotiations. On May 13, 85 days into detention, it was reported Russia was seeking imprisoned arms dealer Viktor Bout, the "Merchant of Death," in exchange for Griner. On June 13, 116 days into detention, State Department officials met with the Mercury and explained the efforts being undertaken to bring her home.
On June 27, 130 days into detention, Griner's detention was extended at least six months. On July 5, 138 days into detention, Griner's wife, Cherelle Griner, complained she had not heard from U.S. President Joe Biden, which the government quickly remedied. And on July 7, 140 days into detention, Griner pleaded guilty. As of Thursday, it has been 147 days since Griner was detained.
So the exact timing of James' comments could be significant, as sentiments around Griner and the efforts to free her have been in flux. Such are the pitfalls of tape-delaying a current affairs talk show.