Dennis Rodman, the NBA legend who has become known for meetings with the likes of Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un, says he’s going to Russia to push for Brittney Griner’s release after the WNBA star was sentenced to nine years in prison.
“I got permission to go to Russia to help that girl,” Rodman told NBC News this weekend, not saying exactly who he got permission from. “I’m trying to go this week.”
Rodman, who won three NBA titles with Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls during the ’90s while cultivating his image as the NBA’s party-loving bad boy, has become known in the past decade for rubbing elbows with political figures that have tense relationships with the U.S. He has spoken in multiple interviews about his personal friendship with North Korea Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un and, in 2018, was present for then President Donald Trump’s meetings with Kim in Singapore. And in 2014, he accepted an invitation by Vladimir Putin to meet in Moscow, later calling the Russian president “cool as f—.”
Now, he is traveling to assist Griner amidst escalating hostility between Russia and the U.S. over Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and the stiff sanctions placed on Russia as a result. Rodman did not specify whether he got permission for the visit from the U.S. State Department, which has issued a travel advisory strongly discouraging Americans from traveling to Russia following the invasion and Griner’s arrest.
Griner was sentenced to nine years in prison in a Russian court earlier this month after pleading guilty to charges of drug possession and smuggling. Griner, who plays for the Phoenix Mercury in the WNBA, also plays for the Russian basketball team UMMC Ekaterinburg during the WNBA’s offseason and was arrested in February after she was found at an airport with vaporizer cartridges containing hashish oil.
Griner’s attorneys have appealed her sentence while American and Russian authorities are negotiating a prisoner exchange for Griner and Paul Whelan, an American who was arrested in Russia in 2018 and sentenced to 16 years in prison.