LeBron James had a point. It's America's fault Brittney Griner went to Russia | Opinion

Say what you want about LeBron’s comments on Brittney Griner, it’s America’s fault she’s over there.

LeBron James, the newly minted billionaire, found himself in a similar trap that faces President Joe Biden: They both want Griner home from a Russian prison where she faces 10 years for vaping, but it looks like Vladimir Putin is in position to force the U.S. into a costly turnover.

Putin, the Russian dictator, could be willing to hand over Griner for Viktor Bout, a convicted weapons trafficker known as “the Merchant of Death.”

U.S. authorities aren’t saying what they'll do. Griner has her next court date on Thursday

But that’s not an even trade.

Griner pleaded guilty to drug charges for two vape cartridges that Russian authorities said they found in her bag at an airport near Moscow in February.

Bout was convicted in 2011 and later sentenced to 25 years in prison after U.S. authorities accused him of trying to sell 800 surface-to-air missiles, 30,000 AK-47s and 10 million rounds of ammunition to a Colombian rebel group.

The allegations against Bout go far deeper. He’s been connected to unfathomable atrocities.

National security expert Douglas Farah wrote recently for Politico that Bout “is responsible for enabling murderous groups to kidnap and train thousands of child soldiers; use rape as a systematic method of terror and control; torture through the mass amputations of arms, legs, ears and lips; slaughter civilians, and help the Taliban take power in Afghanistan … There are no words to describe the human toll of Bout’s activities on thousands of people, from armless child amputees in refugee camps to the scorched rural hamlets burned to the ground by marauding children traumatized into killing their own families.”

Biden could improve the deal somewhat by asking for Paul Whelan, a U.S. citizen who’s been locked up in Russia for nearly four years after being accused as a spy.

James stepped out of bounds in the eyes of conservative referees when he said on “The Shop: Uninterrupted,” in a brief clip that went viral this week, that if he were Griner, he might not want to come back to the U.S. after the ordeal.

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America got Griner's back? It's a fair question

“How can she feel like America has her back?” James said.

He dribbled that back on Twitter saying, “my comments (weren’t) knocking our beautiful country. I was simply saying how she’s probably feeling emotionally … #BringHerHome.”

But we all need to realize we’re culpable in this.

Brittney Griner earns about $230,000 a year playing for the Phoenix Mercury, where she’s one of the league’s biggest and most recognizable stars. James earns more than double that (about $520,000) per game – not to mention all of his endorsements and entrepreneurial moves that prompted Forbes to rank him as the first active NBA player to become a billionaire.

Why was she in Russia in the first place?

So how much does Brittney Griner make playing in Russia? Reportedly about $1 million. So there’s the answer for anyone wondering why was Brittney Griner in Russia in the first place?

The argument will be, of course, that the NBA generates more revenue than the WNBA.

But that’s the result of American sexism, and if the NBA is looking to offset the inequality between men and women by helping to subsidize the WNBA, then it needs to invest more. The current pay gaps are unconscionable.

If Griner earned more, would she have felt compelled to moonlight halfway across the world?

There’s an argument to be made that more of our nation’s flaws are in play in Griner’s case, illustrated by Mercury coach Vanessa Nygaard.

“If it was LeBron, he’d be home, right?” she said. “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.”

I'll put it plainly. Given how U.S. media has prioritized white damsels in distress, could you imagine how Griner’s case would play if she were a waifish Hollywood blonde, stolen from her spouse on minor charges by a nasty and opportunistic European regime?

It's our fault Griner is Russia's prisoner

As for that proposed trade, Bout for Griner, there are some interesting perspectives in favor.

Farah advises Biden to make the swap, saying that Bout’s underworld credibility has been spent since his conviction a decade ago and that while “there should be no mercy for Bout and only his victims could offer forgiveness … there is now a chance for an act of compassion for an innocent life.”

Former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul pushed the tempo on that message, telling NPR that the swap “presents a problem for the United States' system because (Bout is) a real criminal, and the Department of Justice convicted him, and he's in jail for a good reason. Brittney Griner is not a real criminal, and so they feel very uneasy about doing those kinds of swaps. That said, we've done it before.

“Just earlier this year, the Biden administration traded Konstantin Yaroshenko, another Russian prisoner – convicted criminal – for Trevor Reed. And back in 2010, when I was in the government – I was working at the White House at the time – we swapped spies, a dozen of them that we picked up here in the United States in return for four Russians that we wanted to get out of Russian prison. So there is a precedent for these things to happen.”

Griner, meantime, is worried about her teammates.

“I realize you are dealing with so much,” Griner wrote in a letter to the president. “But please don’t forget about me and the other American detainees.”

We don’t know exactly how many Americans are detained in Russia, but we know about Griner and Whelan.

We don’t know what, if anything, Biden is willing to trade to get either or both of them back.

But in Griner’s case, we know it’s our fault she’s over there.

It makes James’ comment prescient: Does America have her back?

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: LeBron James backtracked, but does U.S. have Brittney Griner's back?