One of the biggest headlines not just in sports but across America and the world on Thursday was the conclusion of WNBA forward Brittney Griner’s trial, which resulted in a nine year prison sentence following her arrest for bringing cannabis into the country back in February.
The conclusion of the trial was necessary for Russia and the United States to begin negotiating a trade to bring her home, and a guilty verdict was always the expected outcome especially after Griner plead guilty back on July 7.
Griner was initially in Russia playing with UMMC, a popular destination for WNBA stars during their offseason to continue playing hoops and making money. She was teammates overseas with Gonzaga alumni and current Chicago Sky point guard Courtney Vandersloot, who took to Instagram to show her support for Griner and make one last plea to Russia for compassion.
“I have very fond memories of my time competing in Russia and that is why today, I ask out of respect for the sanctity of sport, that Russia will have mercy and show compassion to BG as her trial ends,” Vandersloot wrote on Instagram before the results of the trial were made public. “I hope Russia can again become a destination for international players to go and compete. We Love you BG!”
While there is no debating that Griner’s possession of marijuana in Russia was against the law, the countries’ decision to keep Griner detained for months, while persuing the maximum sentence, has further escalated tensions between the two sides as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine rages on.
While the basketball side of things is far (far) down the list of concerns regarding this particular situation, it’s pretty obvious this will have serious implications for American players deciding where to play overseas, both on the men’s and women’s side. Gonzaga has already seen one player – Kevin Pangos – have to fight his way out of a contract in Moscow, and the threat of litigation still remains.
Vandersloot didn’t outright say she doesn’t plan to return to Russia in the WNBA offseason, but it would be very surprising to see her or any high-profile WNBA stars playing in Russia in light of Griner’s treatment by foreign officials for the foreseeable future.
Andy hosts the Locked on Zags and Locked on College Basketball podcasts, and serves Locked On in a marketing/digital content creator role as well. He lives just outside Portland with his wife Jenna and dog, Tillie.