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The five-time NBA champion, 61, revealed plans to travel to Russia and seek the release Griner, 31, according to NBC News, after the WNBA player and two-time Olympic gold medalist was sentenced to nine years in prison on accused drug possession charges.
“I got permission to go to Russia to help that girl,” he said during an interview in Washington, D.C., as reported by NBC News. “I’m trying to go this week.”
“I know Putin too well,” Rodman added.
Although the U.S. has imposed sanctions on Russia since their invasion of Ukraine in February, as well as issuing a travel advisory, Rodman does not need permission from the U.S. to travel to the country, only a Russian visa.
Rodong Sinmun/Korea News Service/AP
The U.S. State Department did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment.
Rodman has become somewhat of an unofficial diplomat over the years, forming friendships with international leaders who have strained relationships with the U.S.
The Chicago Bulls alum has referred to North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un as a friend and “very good guy,” even helping secure the release of American prisoner Kenneth Bae in 2014. He also met with Kim and former U.S. President Donald Trump during a 2018 visit to Singapore.
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“They don’t know about American basketball, American football. I went over there to represent America as far as basketball is concerned,” Rodman told Fox Business, adding, “I’m not a politician, I’m just a basketball ambassador. That’s it.”
Rodman’s latest comments come after Griner was detained in Russia on drug smuggling charges in February for allegedly possessing hash oil in her luggage. Before she was sentenced to nine years in Russian prison last month, Griner testified that she “had no intention to break the law” and did not mean to pack the cannabis oil in the first place.
Griner’s imprisonment has sparked a national outcry for her release, as President Joe Biden has even entered negotiations to potentially exchange the release of Griner and another American prisoner for a Russian prisoner in the U.S. Meanwhile, her attorneys are planning to appeal the verdict.