Due to Brittney Griner’s widely reported legal issues in Russia and that nation’s invasion of Ukraine, the WNBA decided to send their best players elsewhere this offseason.
Because of the resources and luxuries available as well as earnings that can surpass $1 million, Russia has become the favored vacation destination for WNBA players over the past two decades. That book has abruptly come to an end.
“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,” said Breanna Stewart, who played alongside Griner in Russia for UMMC Ekaterinburg. “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.”
In the midst of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Griner was held after his arrest in February. She was charged with narcotics possession and ultimately found guilty. Griner received a nine-year prison term last month.
Stewart is now moving abroad this winter along with other WNBA All-Stars like Jonquel Jones and Courtney Vandersloot. All of them have earned millions of dollars playing in Russia. All three were Ekaterinburg players. Last winter, about a dozen WNBA players competed there. However, none of them will return this season.
Stewart will move to Turkey after the World Cup to play for Fenerbahçe. Top athletes can earn a few hundred thousand dollars per year playing in Turkey, a significant decrease from their pay in Russia. Stewart can be nearer to her wife’s family in Spain by playing in Turkey.
“You want to have a better lifestyle, a better off-the-court experience, and just continue to appreciate other countries,” Stewart said.
An All-Out Boycott of Russia by WNBA
Vandersloot, like Stewart, has decided to play in Hungary instead of returning to Russia after obtaining citizenship there in 2016.
“I am Hungarian. I thought it would be special since I haven’t played there since I got the citizenship,” Vandersloot said.
Even though she has many pleasant memories of the Russian people, the 33-year-old guard said a lot would have to change before she’d ever contemplated returning to Russia to play.
“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.”
Stewart will play for Mersin in Turkey alongside Jones. If political conditions changed and Griner returned to the US, Jones stated that she might think about moving back to Russia.
Young WNBA players are likewise quite concerned about the Griner scenario. This winter, Rhyne Howard, the 2022 WNBA Rookie of the Year, is playing basketball in Italy. She claimed that she used caution when picking where to play.
International Stars Joining-In
Not just American athletes are no longer traveling to Russia. Emma Meesseman had previously played in Russia alongside Stewart, Jones, and Vandersloot. In the offseason, she is also traveling to Turkey.
The WNBA has also been working to improve players’ options for staying at home during the offseason. At the WNBA Finals, Commissioner Cathy Engelbert stated that elite players may earn up to $700,000 this year. While just a small number of players may earn that much, only a dozen have made the decision to sign league marketing contracts this offseason.