NBA star Dennis Rodman said he plans to travel to Russia to help advocate for Brittney Griner’s release after the American basketball player was sentenced to nine years in prison for possession of cannabis.
“I got permission to go to Russia to help that girl,” Rodman, 61, told NBC News in Washington, D.C., on Saturday.
“I’m trying to go this week.”
The basketball Hall of Famer added that he knows Russian President Vladimir Putin “very well.”
It was not immediately clear what “permit” Rodman received, but an approved visa is required to enter Russia.
The US State Department currently has a travel advisory warning Americans not to travel to the country.
“Do not travel to Russia,” the warning said, listing a number of reasons — including the invasion of Ukraine, “the potential for harassment of American citizens” and “exclusion of American citizens in Russia by Russian government security officials, including detention.” .
Rodman, who once referred to Putin as “cool” in a 2014 interview, is no stranger to engaging in informal diplomacy with international leaders.
The former Chicago Bulls star struck up an unlikely friendship with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un and has visited the country several times.
He previously took credit for helping free American Kenneth Bae in 2014, who had been imprisoned in North Korea for more than two and a half years for unspecified acts.
Rodman said he had written to Kim Jong Un to ask him to release Bae, TMZ reported at the time.
His attempt to get involved in Griner’s ordeal comes after the WNBA star’s lawyers said last week they had filed an appeal of her prison sentence.
Griner, an eight-time all-star center with the Phoenix Mercury and two-time Olympic gold medalist, was sentenced Aug. 4 after police said they found vape canisters containing cannabis oil in her luggage at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport.
The American admitted having the canisters in her bag but told the court she had packed them incorrectly and had no criminal intent.
Before her sentencing, the US State Department had declared that Griner had been “wrongly arrested” – a statement spokesman Ned Price doubled down on last week.
“No element of this trial changes our judgment that Brittney Griner was wrongly arrested and should be released immediately,” Price said.
“That’s why we put forward a few weeks ago what we consider to be a serious, substantive proposal and an effort to seek her release, to seek the release of Paul Whelan as well,” he added, referring to an american. serving a 16-year sentence in Russia for espionage.