How long has Brittney Griner played in Russia and how much was her salary at UMMC Ekaterinburg?
The 31-year-old has been sentenced to nine years in prison for entering the country with a banned cannabis oil, but why do so many WNBA stars play overseas?
A court in Moscow has sentenced Brittney Griner to nine years in prison after she was found guilty of deliberately bringing a cannabis oil vape cartridge into Russia. She was arrested in February and her case has played out as tensions between the United States and Russia have heightened, due to the latter’s invasion on Ukraine.
Griner had travelled to Russia to join up with the team that she plays with during the off-season of the WNBA. Many female professional play in overseas league to supplement the salary offered by their US-based teams.
The 31-year-old has played for UMMC Ekaterinburg since 2014, while also competing for the Phoenix Mercury in the WNBA. She joined the Russian side after leaving Chinese team Zhejiang Golden Bulls.
How much was Brittney Griner paid in Russia?
While the NBA is known for the glitz, glamour and gargantuan contracts offered to its biggest stars, the female professional leagues in the US are less lavish. A statement from the WNBA in 2020 announced that the total earnings of a player could not exceed $500,000 per year, including all bonuses and team marketing deals.
When you consider that Griner is a two-time Olympic gold medallist and an eight-time WNBA All-Star, $500,000 would seem fairly modest in comparison to the pay of her male counterparts. However she did not even earn that in the most recent season. Sports salary database Spotrac calculate that in the 2021/22 season Griner’s base salary was just $221,000.
This is in stark contrast to leagues overseas where there are often no such restrictions on players’ wages and clubs can therefore pay them more handsomely.
In 2015 Diana Taurasi, who played alongside Griner at UMMC Ekaterinburg, was reportedly earning an extra $1.5 million by playing for the Russian side in the offseason. At the time, WNBA salaries were capped at $110,000.
Given the extraordinary sacrifices made to reach the elite level of a sport, many WNBA stars can feel justified in wanting to maximise their earning potential overseas. In fact, it is not only the players who choose to do so.
Todd Troxel was an assistant coach for both the Phoenix Mercury and UMMC, the same two sides that Griner had, until recently, been playing for. He was clear that the finances are a major pull for everyone in the WNBA.
“This is the big paycheck — for all of us,” he told ESPN in 2016. “We all love Phoenix, but ultimately it’s all about here,” he said, referring to the Russian leagues.