Report: WNBA Star Brittney Griner Detained in Russia

The news came as the State Department urged Americans to leave Russia

Brittney Griner
Brittney Griner of the Phoenix Mercury prepares for game 1 of the WNBA Finals at Footprint Center on October 10, 2021.
Mike Mattina/Getty Images

On Saturday, news emerged that a prominent American basketball player was being detained in Russia. The player is Brittney Griner, who has long been a mainstay of the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury (twice leading the league in scoring) and has represented the USA on gold medal-winning teams at the 2016 and 2020 Summer Olympics.

The New York Times cited a report from the Russian Russian Federal Customs Service stating that they had detained an American basketball player for possession of hashish oil vape cartridges. Shortly thereafter, TASS revealed that the player was Griner.

Many WNBA players spend their off-seasons playing around the world; Griner has played for UMMC Ekaterinburg for nearly as long as she’s played for the Mercury.

The Times pointed out that Russia has said that it’s investigating, and that transportation of illicit substances could result in an imprisonment of up to 10 years. The timing of this related to the ongoing controversy over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine does raise some alarms. As ESPN’s T.J. Quinn pointed out on Twitter, there’s some uncomfortable history here that could come into play — and which suggests that Russia might have ulterior motives in detaining Griner for purposes of political leverage.

A number of institutions, including the Phoenix Mercury and the WNBA, have issued statements in support of Griner.

Earlier today, the U.S. State Department issued a travel advisory urging all U.S. citizens presently in Russia to leave immediately. It also explicitly advised against making plans to visit Russia in the near future.

“Do not travel to Russia due to the unprovoked and unjustified attack by Russian military forces in Ukraine, the potential for harassment against U.S. citizens by Russian government security officials, the Embassy’s limited ability to assist U.S. citizens in Russia, COVID-19 and related entry restrictions, terrorism, limited flights into and out of Russia, and the arbitrary enforcement of local law,” the statement read in part.

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