American Basketball Player Brittney Griner's Russian Detention, Explained

Getty / Mike Mattina

Brittney Griner, an American basketball player for the Phoenix Mercury WNBA team, was detained this past February at a Russian airport after vape cartridges containing hashish oil were found in her luggage. Hashish oil is extracted from cannabis, an illegal substance in Russia – under the article 228 of the Russian Criminal Code, someone who commits an offense related to the “illegal acquisition, storage, transportation, making or processing of narcotic drugs, psychotropic substances or analogues thereof” could face up to 10 years in prison.

Although the US Department of State – Bureau of Consular Affairs issued a “Do Not Travel” advisory on its site, Griner flew to Russia to play on the UMMC Ekaterinburg team. The 31-year-old has been a member of the Russian basketball team for several WNBA off-seasons.

The two-time Olympian might have chosen to play overseas during this off-season for a myriad of reasons – including to earn some extra cash. WNBA players typically earn between $60,000 and $229,000, while NBA players can earn upwards of $40 million. According to an Associated Press report, “half of the WNBA’s 144 players” went overseas during the 2022 off-season, with high-ranking athletes earning more than $1 million. WNBA athlete Liz Cambage said on NBA Today that she is able to earn “five to eight times more” by playing overseas.

Will American Basketball Player Brittney Griner be released?

Griner’s conviction comes amid US sanctions against Russia. Texas congressman Joaquin Castro deemed Russia’s decision to detain the athlete a political move, tweeting, “I’m closely monitoring reports of Texan @brittneygriner‘s detention in Russia. This follows a pattern of Russia wrongly detaining & imprisoning US citizens . . . US citizens are not political pawns.”

According to E! News, Griner’s agent, Lindsay Kagawa Colas, released a statement to the publication regarding her plan to get Griner home safely. Colas said, “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.”

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