WNBA Players Skip Russia Over Brittney Griner Situation, Ukraine Invasion

by Sean Griffin

Brittney Griner’s legal controversies in Russia, along with the country’s invasion of Ukraine, has many top WNBA players vowing to take their talents anywhere but Russia.

For over two decades, Russia has been the preferred off-season destination for WNBA players to compete, normally offering high salaries that can exceed $1 million.

However, now, that’s all coming to an end with these events unfolding.

“Honestly my time in Russia has been wonderful, but especially with BG still wrongfully detained there, nobody’s going to go there until she’s home,” said Breanna Stewart, a Griner teammate on the Russian team that paid the pair millions. “I think that, you know, now, people want to go overseas and if the money is not much different, they want to be in a better place.”

Griner was arrested in February. She was later convicted on drug possession charges in Russia, during the invasion of Ukraine. Griner was sentenced last month to nine years in prison.

Now, Stewart and other WNBA All-Stars, including Jonquel Jones and Courtney Vandersloot won’t be returning to Russia this offseason.

Nearly a dozen WNBA players competed in Russia. Now, not one is heading back this year.

“You want to have a better lifestyle, a better off-the-court experience, and just continue to appreciate other countries,” Stewart said.

Like Stewart, Vandersloot also isn’t headed back to Russia. She chose to play in Hungary. Vandersloot obtained citizenship in 2016.

“I am Hungarian. I thought it would be special since I haven’t played there since I got the citizenship,” Vandersloot said.

The 33-year-old guard said a lot would have to change before she’d ever consider going back to Russia to play. However, she says she has many fond memories of the Russian people.

President Biden to Meet with Brittney Griner’s Wife

President Biden is set to meet with Brittney Griner’s wife at the White House, according to a report by Yahoo! News. The President will meet with Cherelle Griner, Brittney’s wife, and Paul Whelan’s sister Elizabeth Whelan.

The subject of the meeting will reportedly be to “discuss [Biden’s] continuing commitment to bringing their family members home safely.”

Griner was locked up in February 2022 by Russian authorities. Russian officials discovered cannabis oil in her luggage at the airport. Reportedly, they found less than a gram of hash oil cartridges. Her trial began on July 1st, and she pled guilty to the charges. She received nine years at her sentencing on August 4th. She also paid a fine of $16,500.

Since her imprisonment by Russian authorities, U.S. officials have tried to get the country to release Griner back to the United States, matters complicated by Russia’s ongoing war with Ukraine.

In recent weeks, the United States has been looking to organize a prisoner swap to bring Griner and former Marine Paul Whelan back into the states. Russia, in return, would receive Viktor Bout — also known as the “Merchant of Death.” Bout is a convicted Russian arms trafficker serving time in America.

Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry recently revealed in a Rolling Stone profile that he offered to help facilitate the release and return of detained WNBA star Brittney Griner from Russia.

Moreover, weeks ago, Dennis Rodman revealed he planned to cancel his trip to Russia over government concerns.