WNBA players skip Russia amid Brittney Griner troubles and Ukraine war

Brittney Griner’s high-profile legal troubles in Russia and the country’s invasion of Ukraine have prompted the top WNBA players to seek their talents elsewhere this offseason.

In recent decades, Russia has been the preferred off-season destination for WNBA players due to the high salaries that can exceed $1 million and the resources and amenities available to them.

All of this came to an abrupt end.

“Honestly, my time in Russia was wonderful, but more importantly, with BG still being unjustly detained there, no one will go there until she gets back home,” said Breanna Stewart, a Griner teammate on the Russia team who paid the duo millions. “I think now people want to go abroad and unless the money is a lot different, they want to be in a better place.”

Griner was arrested in February, then jailed and later convicted of drug possession during the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Griner was sentenced to nine years in prison last month.

Now Stewart and other WNBA All-Stars, including Jonquel Jones and Courtney Vandersloot – who also made millions of dollars in Russia – are going elsewhere this winter. All three played for Yekaterinburg, the same Russian team as Griner. This club has won five EuroLeague titles in the last eight seasons and has dominated former greats DeLisha Milton Jones and Diana Taurasi who play there for almost two decades.

Nearly a dozen WNBA players competed in Russia last winter, and none of them are returning this year.

Seattle Storm's Breanna Stewart shoots against the Las Vegas Aces during the third quarter of game four of the 2022 WNBA Playoffs at Climate Pledge Arena on September 6, 2022 in Seattle.
Breanna Stewart will earn a lower salary in Turkey than when she competes in Russia.
Getty Images

After the World Cup, Stewart goes to Turkey to play for Fenerbahce. Top players can earn a few hundred thousand dollars playing in Turkey, much less than their Russian salaries. Playing in Turkey also allows Stewart to be closer to her wife’s family in Spain.

“They want to have a better lifestyle, a better off-court experience, and just continue to appreciate other countries,” Stewart said.

Like Stewart, Vandersloot is not returning to Russia but is set in Hungary, where she received citizenship in 2016.

“I’m Hungarian. I thought it would be special as I haven’t played there since I got citizenship,” said Vandersloot.

Chicago Sky's Courtney Vandersloot dribbles against the Connecticut Sun during the second half of game five of the 2022 WNBA Playoffs Semifinals at Wintrust Arena on September 8, 2022 in Chicago.
Courtney Vandersloot is set to play in Hungary as Brittney Griner’s troubles continue to unfold.
Getty Images

The 33-year-old warden said a lot had to change before she ever considered returning to Russia to play, although she has many fond memories of the Russian people.

“The thing is, we’ve been treated so well by our club and have developed such strong relationships with these people that I would never close the door,” she said. “The whole situation with BG makes it really hard to believe it’s safe for anyone to go back there now.”

Jones will join Stewart in Turkey and play for Mersin. The 6-foot-6 Jones said she would consider returning to Russia when things change politically and Griner is back in the US

The griner situation is also weighing heavily on the minds of young WNBA players.

Rhyne Howard, the 2022 WNBA Rookie of the Year, is playing in Italy this winter – her first experience abroad. She said be careful when deciding where to play.

“Everyone’s going to be a little bit cautious seeing this situation happening,” she said.

It’s not just the American players who stop going to Russia. Chicago Sky forward Emma Meesseman, who plays for the Belgium national team, had played with Stewart, Jones and Vandersloot in Russia. She will also travel to Turkey this offseason.

The WNBA has also tried to make staying in the offseason a better option for players. Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said at the WNBA Finals that top players could make as much as $700,000 this year between base pay, marketing deals and bonus awards. While only a select few players have been able to match that amount, about a dozen have decided to enter into league marketing deals this offseason.

https://nypost.com/2022/09/20/wnba-players-skip-russia-amid-brittney-griner-woes-ukraine-war/ WNBA players skip Russia amid Brittney Griner troubles and Ukraine war

JACLYN DIAZ

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