Why Was Brittney Griner in Russia? Detained WNBA Star Is Finally Coming Home

Jennifer Tisdale - Author
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Dec. 8 2022, Updated 10:25 a.m. ET

Basketball player Brittney Griner is 6 feet 9 inches tall, but that's not the only thing that makes her a breakout star of the WNBA. According to her WNBA player profile, Brittney has spent nine years as a professional basketball player with the Phoenix Mercury where she has broken numerous records. She was picked up from Baylor University where she played all four years. In fact, Brittney has been playing basketball for most of her life until recently.

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On Feb. 17, 2022, Brittney was detained by Russian authorities while attempting to return to the United States. Why did Brittney Griner go to Russia? Here's what we know.

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Why did Brittney Griner go to Russia?

Brittney was in Russia playing basketball, which is pretty common among players of the WNBA who don't make nearly as much as their male counterparts in the NBA. NBC News reported that "Griner has played the last seven WNBA offseasons with UMMC Ekaterinburg in Russia, where big-name players can earn more than $1 million a year."

Unfortunately, the most players in the WNBA can make is $228,000 while NBA players make significantly more. "The top ten highest salaries in the NBA for the 2021-2022 season are all north of $39 million, including superstars Stephen Curry from the Golden State Warriors, the Brooklyn Nets’ Kevin Durant, and the Los Angeles Lakers’ LeBron James," reports USA Today. On the other hand, Brittney was making $221,000 per year and sadly needed to supplement her income by traveling to Russia.

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Why was Brittney Griner detained in Russia?

While attempting to return home from Russia in February 2022, Brittney was detained at Sheremetyevo airport just outside of Moscow. The BBC described the security footage of Brittney's detainment which showed her "sitting in front of a man, seemingly a customs agent, shaking her head 'no.' Then, nothing — until a Russian mugshot emerged on state television." She was arrested on drug charges.

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Brittney's trial began on July 1, 2022. She was "accused of carrying vape cartridges containing hashish oil, which is illegal in Russia," per ABC News. On Aug. 4, 2022, Brittney was sentenced to nine years in a Russian prison, with Judge Anna Sotnikova claiming she intentionally broke the law. Brittney was also fined 1 million rubles (about $16,700), per ESPN. But luckily, The United States was able to negotiate Brittney's release.

Brittney Griner was released from Russia on Dec. 8, 2022.

On Dec. 8, 2022, Brittney Griner was released in a one-for-one prisoner swap with the United States for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout. According to CBS News, the swap took place in the United Arab Emirates, with five former U.S. officials telling the outlet that after weeks of negotiation, the agreement to swap was finally settled on Dec. 1.

A White House official also told CBS News that President Joe Biden spoke to Brittany via phone, where he was joined by her wife, Cherelle, Vice President Kamala Harris, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Following her arrival in the United States, Brittany will undergo a medical evaluation.

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