Brittney Griner situation deters WNBA players from Russia, citing safety

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Brittney Griner’s arrest and detention earlier this year have made WNBA players steer clear of Russia.

WNBA stars have gone over to Russia to play for teams owned by oligarchs for higher salaries. But the Griner situation will keep players away from the country as the WNBA heads for its own offseason. Breanna Stewart, Jonquel Jones and Courtney Vandersloot are going somewhere else this winter.

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Chicago Sky guard Courtney Vandersloot drives to the basket as Sun guard Natisha Hiedeman defends during the WNBA basketball playoffs, Sept. 6, 2022, in Uncasville, Connecticut.
(AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

“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,” Stewart said. “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.”

Stewart will go to Turkey to play for Fenerbahçe while Vandersloot will play in Hungary.

“I am Hungarian. I thought it would be special since I haven’t played there since I got the citizenship,” she said, adding there would have to be a lot of changes before she considered playing in Russia again.

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Storm forward Breanna Stewart reacts after hitting a three-point basket during the WNBA playoff semifinal against the Las Vegas Aces, Sept. 6, 2022, in Seattle.

Storm forward Breanna Stewart reacts after hitting a three-point basket during the WNBA playoff semifinal against the Las Vegas Aces, Sept. 6, 2022, in Seattle.
(AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson)

“The thing about it is, we were treated so well by our club and made such strong relationships with those people, I would never close the door on that,” she said. “The whole situation with BG makes it really hard to think that it’s safe for anyone to go back there right now.”

The WNBA has also been trying to make staying home a better solution for players.

Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said at the WNBA Finals that top players could make up to $700,000 this year between base salary, marketing agreements and award bonuses. About a dozen have decided to take league marketing agreements this offseason.

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Brittney Griner is escorted from a courtroom after a hearing, in Khimki, just outside Moscow, Russia, Aug. 4, 2022.

Brittney Griner is escorted from a courtroom after a hearing, in Khimki, just outside Moscow, Russia, Aug. 4, 2022.
(AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, File)

Griner was sentenced to nine years in prison for bringing vape cartridges containing cannabis oil through a Moscow airport. The Biden administration has been negotiating with Russian officials to bring her and Paul Whelan, another detained American, home.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.