At least 32 Americans have signed up to play in Russia’s top basketball league this coming season despite Brittney Griner’s harrowing experience, according to USA TODAY.
Griner had been playing for Russia’s UMMC Ekaterinburg for seven years during the WNBA off-season when she was arrested at a Moscow airport one week before Russia invaded Ukraine. Griner admitted she was carrying a minuscule amount of cannabis oil in her suitcase that she’d forgotten to remove prior to her return trip to Moscow. In August Griner was sentenced to nine years in a Russian penal colony.
Most of the players still willing to take the risk are lesser-known names, says USA Today, with the most recognizable being James Ennis, who has played for 10 NBA teams.
Only One Woman
Unique Thompson, who joined the Indiana Fever as the 19th draft pick in 2021 before accepting a training camp contract with the Dallas Wings said she’d play in Russian. Her agent said Thompson “supports Brittney” but felt playing in Russia gave her the best chance to “get back into the WNBA.” One veteran agent described the decision to USA TODAY as “playing Russian roulette, no pun intended.”
Boycott Of Russia’s Basketball Leagues
As more information comes out about athletes signing up for the new season in Russia’s top basketball leagues, calls to boycott them have grown.
Do Russian Oligarchs Appreciate Women’s Basketball More Than We Do?
Griner, a WNBA eight-time All-Star and two-time Olympic gold medalist, along with some 70 other WNBA players have supplemented their relatively low incomes by playing in Russia over the years. Most of them were lured to play in Russia for annual salaries of up to five times what they earn in the WNBA.
The vast majority of Russian basketball teams are owned by billionaire Russian oligarchs by the way.
“Russia was so far ahead of the U.S. in terms of paying female basketball players because attracting foreign — and especially Western — talent is a matter of national prestige for Russia,” Stanislav Markus, a business professor at the University of South Carolina who studies oligarchs told the NY Times.
“Until the recent geopolitical standoff, it was tacitly encouraged by the state and generously financed by the oligarchs who often own the teams.”
Photo: Blende12 by Pixabay and Wiki Commons