Star WNBA player Brittney Griner detained in Russia


Photo used with permission from Google Commons

WNBA All Star Brittney Griner was supposed to play winter basketball for UMMC Yekaterinburg in Russia before being detained at a Russian Airport.

The detainment of WNBA All Star Brittney Griner has reached the three-month mark. Griner was arrested and detained in Russia after Russian Federal Customs Service said they found vape and cannabis oil cartridges in her carry-on luggage. Griner was in Russia to play for her off-season basketball team, the UMMC Yekaterinburg.

Griner was a star collegiate athlete at the University of Baylor before becoming the first overall pick in the 2013 WNBA Draft by the Phoenix Mercury. Her contributions both on and off the court for the Mercury organization have made her one of the most well-known players in the WNBA. Her detainment sent shockwaves through the WNBA and NBA communities with both WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert and NBA commissioner Adam Silver working alongside the U.S. government to help secure her release from a Russian prison. Her whereabouts and condition in prison have been unknown, but according to USA Today she is “comfortable” considering the circumstances she is in. The U.S. government officially classified her as “wrongfully detained” and has been working to secure her release through different avenues such as a prisoner swap. Many people look at her detainment as a pawn for Russia to use to help lower sanctions against their country put in place after they invaded Ukraine. Sophomore Evan Geisner said, “Her detainment is strictly just the Russian government using her fame and popularity to lower sanctions against their country after they invaded Ukraine.”

On May 3 the WNBA announced that over the course of their season, every team would have Griner’s jersey number and initials as floor decals to help show their support for her. WNBA player and teammate of Griner, Skylar Diggins Smith has been outspoken about trying to “carry her legacy and continue fighting for her until she comes back to us.” This sentiment has been echoed across the WNBA by players, coaches and teammates alike. The uncertainty of her situation alongside the beginning of a new WNBA season has made the pressure to bring her back much greater and there seems to be a higher sense of urgency amongst the U.S. government to reach an agreement that will allow her to come back to the United States. According to Forbes, the Biden administration has offered to swap her for convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout.  They would essentially send him back to Russia in exchange for Griner being sent back to the United States. These negotiations are in the “early stages” so a final agreement may not be reached for a considerable amount of time.

With the absence of Griner, the WNBA season is missing one of its best and most popular players, who makes the game greater every time she steps on the court. There is hope, yet sadness that soon Griner will be freed to continue playing the game she loves and continue making a positive impact within the Phoenix community.