Five-time NBA champion and self-appointed diplomat Dennis Rodman said he’s planning a trip to Russia to help negotiate the release of Brittney Griner.
Griner, one of the top players in the WNBA, was sentenced to nine years in prison after she was arrested at a Moscow airport and accused by Russian prosecutors of trying to smuggle less than one gram of cannabis oil in her luggage. State Department spokesman Ned Price said last week the department still classified Griner as being “wrongfully detained.”
“I got permission to go to Russia to help that girl,” Rodman told NBC News. “I’m trying to go this week.”
Reuters reports, however, that the White House does not approve of Rodman’s plan. “It is public information that the administration has made a significant offer to the Russians and anything other than negotiating further through the established channel is likely to complicate and hinder release efforts,” said a senior Biden administration official, who asked to remain anonymous.
Rodman does not need special permission from the U.S. to enter Russia — just a visa from Moscow, according to NBC News. The State Department has issued a travel advisory warning Americans not to travel to Russia.
Rodman had a storied, if tumultuous, NBA career. In addition to his five championships — three with the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls — Rodman also earned a place on the NBA All-Defensive First Team seven times and won the NBA Defensive Player of the Year Award twice. He also led the NBA in rebounds per game for a record seven consecutive years.
Rodman made multiple trips to North Korea between 2013-2018. He met North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and later said that Kim was “a friend for life.” He and his group were the first known Americans to have met Kim.
In July 2013, Rodman told Sports Illustrated, “My mission is to break the ice between hostile countries. Why it’s been left to me to smooth things over, I don’t know. Dennis Rodman, of all people. Keeping us safe is really not my job; it’s [then-President Obama’s] job. But I’ll tell you this: If I don’t finish in the top three for the next Nobel Peace Prize, something’s seriously wrong.”
In an interview with the Associated Press earlier this month, Bill Richardson, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said he was hopeful about the chances of a prisoner swap that could result in the release of Griner and another American imprisoned in Russia, Paul Whelan.