Thuc Nhi Nguyen
Los Angeles Times
WNBA star Brittney Griner was arrested at a Moscow airport last month when vape cartridges were allegedly found in her luggage, according to a report from the Associated Press, leaving the 31-year-old Phoenix Mercury center in Russia while the country wages war in Ukraine.
The situation became public Saturday as the Russian Customs Service said the cartridges contained oil derived from cannabis, which could carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison. While the customs service only identified the person arrested as a U.S. women’s basketball player and did not specify the date of her arrest, Russian media reported the player to be Griner.
“We are aware of the situation with Brittney Griner in Russia and are in close contact with her, her legal representation in Russia, her family, her teams, and the WNBA and NBA,” Griner’s agent Lindsay Kagawa Colas told the Associated Press on Saturday.
Here’s what you need to know about the situation:
Who is Brittney Griner?
The 6-foot-9 Griner has established herself as one of the WNBA’s most dominant forces. Since being drafted first overall in 2013 out of Baylor, Griner has led the Mercury to a WNBA championship in 2014, earned seven All-Star appearances and led the league in scoring twice (2017, 2019). The two-time WNBA defensive player of the year and two-time Olympic gold medalist was named one of the WNBA’s best 25 players as the league celebrated its quarter-century anniversary last season.
What was she doing in Russia?
Griner is one of many WNBA stars who spend their offseasons playing overseas to supplement their domestic salary. She’s played for UMMC Ekaterinburg since 2014, making more than $1 million a season, which is four times what she makes with the Mercury. The Russian club, with 15 national championships and six EuroLeague women’s titles, has used its top-dollar salaries to attract elite WNBA stars like Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi, Candace Parker and Maya Moore.
The current roster includes Breanna Stewart, a three-time WNBA champion with the Seattle Storm; Chicago Sky teammates Allie Quigley and Courtney Vandersloot, who led the Sky to their first WNBA title last year; and Belgian forward Emma Meesseman, the 2019 WNBA Finals most valuable player with the Washington Mystics who signed with the Sky this year.
A WNBA spokesperson told the Associated Press all other players in Ukraine and Russia have left those countries.
How is her situation affected by the war in Ukraine?
Citing the “unprovoked and unjustified attack by Russian military forces in Ukraine,” the U.S. State Department issued a Level 4 “do not travel” advisory for Russia.
The State Department also emphasized potential harassment against U.S. citizens by Russian government security officials as a reason why Americans should leave Russia immediately. Yet leaving the country could be difficult as airlines have canceled flights into and out of Russia while other countries have closed their airspace to Russian airliners.
What has the WNBA said?
In a statement Saturday the WNBA said, ” Brittney Griner has the WNBA’s full support and our main priority is her swift and safe return to the United States.”
The players union released a statement on Instagram saying, “We are aware of the situation in Russia concerning one of our members, Brittney Griner. Our utmost concern is BG’s safety and well-being. On behalf of The 144 [ WNBA players], we send our love and support. We will continue to closely monitor and look forward to her return to the U.S.”