The news of Britney Griner’s return form jail, Thursday after 294 days in custody, renewed the conversation around why the 32-year-old was in Russia in the first place.
The Phoenix Mercury center was released in exchange for arms dealer Viktor Bout after months in custody and “painstaking and intense negotiations,” President Joe Biden announced.
Griner’s arrest, trial and conviction highlighted the offseason struggle for WNBA players, some of whom choose to put their safety on the line to provide for themselves and their families.
Why WNBA Players go Abroad
For years, WNBA players have headed overseas in the offseason to make up for the U.S. league’s low salaries and short season. Russia became a popular destination for many players due to the high salaries its teams can offer. The maximum salary a player could make in the WNBA in 2022 was $196,267, while players can make a million dollars or more in Russia.
High-profile players including Sue Bird, Maya Moore, Candace Parker and Diana Taurasi all have spent time with UMMC Ekaterinburg in seasons past.
Griner played for Ekaterinburg during the WNBA offseason, alongside other stars like Breanna Stewart, Jonquel Jones and Courtney Vandersloot.
What's next for the WNBA Star?
Griner’s family released a statement thanking those who helped orchestrate her return and asking for privacy in the coming days and weeks.
“We ask that you respect our privacy as we embark on this road to healing,” the family said in its statement.
Phoenix Mercury forward Brianna Turner, who was drafted by the team in 2019 and has played with Griner since then, also expressed her support for Griner as she returns home.
Will Griner return to the basketball court? That decision remains entirely in the hands of the woman herself, the Phoenix Mercury and the rest of the WNBA behind her in whatever she decides.
“I think the players will want to see her and they’ll fly anywhere to go see her,” WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert said at a press conference Thursday. “We’re going to give some time and space, but she’ll know we’re all ready to help.”
The league will follow Griner’s lead in terms of how she wants to move forward, in the short-term and the long-term, Engelbert said.