Brittney Griner arguably the greatest female basketball player of all time, and she was detained in Moscow . After two months in custody, the world is now paying more attention to her case.
In one of the last public sightings of Brittney Griner, captured on CCTV. the American professional basketball player is seen walking through airport security trailing a small, black suitcase.
Ms Griner, a star centre for the Phoenix Mercury, had landed at the Sheremetyevo airport, outside Moscow, in February. She was in Russia to play during the WNBA off-season.
In the security footage, she wears running shoes. black sweatpants and a black hoodie with “Black Lives for Peace” written on the back. her dark hair hanging in locs down past her shoulders.
At 6ft 9in – tall even by basketball standards – she towers above the customs agents and other travellers.
In another shot, she is seen sitting in front of a man, a customs agent, shaking her head “no”. Then, nothing – until a Russian mugshot emerged on state television.
Ms Griner, 31, had been arrested by Russian authorities on drug charges.
On 14 June, state-owned Russian outlet TASS reported that her pre-trial detention had been extended until 2 July.
Citing unnamed sources, TASS has also reported that Russia hopes to trade. Ms Griner for an arms trafficker serving a 25-year sentence in the US, Viktor Bout.
Asked about this report, the US State Department said it “would not comment on speculation”.
“What we will say is that using the practice of wrongful detention as a bargaining. chip represents a threat to the safety of everyone travelling, working, and living abroad. The United States opposes this practice everywhere,” a spokesman said.
The uncertainty around her fate has fuelled an outpouring of support for the player. And it has also engendered a sense of outrage among some fans who say the response to Ms Griner’s detainment was, at first, strangely muted.
Following her arrest, fans and experts said that they felt the attention. she was given in comparison to male players exposed longstanding gender inequities in professional sports.
“If this was an NBA [professional men’s league] player of her calibre… this would be on the cover of not only every sports page. but every news media page in the world,” said Tamryn Spruill, a sports journalist. who is writing a book on the WNBA and Ms Griner’s contributions to the league.
Ms Griner, a nine-year veteran of the league – is the “best of the best”, said Melissa Isaacson. a sportswriter and professor at Northwestern University in the US state of Illinois.
“She’s every bit the Tom Brady of her sport,” Ms Isaacson said. “You could argue very accurately that she is one of the best athletes in the world.”
A native of Houston, Texas, she earned a basketball scholarship to Baylor University. where she led the team to a national championship.
She is now one of the WNBA’s most dominant players in history. widely considered the best offensive player in the league.
Few have accomplished what Ms Griner has done – winning a college championship, WNBA and Euroleague titles and an Olympic gold medal. And, famously, her ability to dunk is unmatched.
Off the court, she has also been seen as a trailblazer, coming out as gay at age 22. just around the time of her entry into professional sport.
She then became the first overall draft pick in the WNBA that year and, soon after. the first openly gay athlete to be endorsed by Nike.
“Before Griner, there was this shadow over the league, where it was like ‘don’t say gay,'” Ms Spruill said. “And she was just like ‘screw that, this is who I am’.”
“BG’s always been one to be a pioneer,” Griner’s teammate, Diana Taurasi has said.
Despite all this, Ms Griner had a second job. and that was why she had flown to Russia – to play for EuroLeague team UMMC Ekaterinburg, where she had worked since 2014 during the US off-season.
Roughly half of WNBA players compete overseas in the off-season. For most, it’s a way to augment their domestic income: WNBA players receive roughly five times more in Russia than they do in the US.
“If she were Steph Curry or LeBron James, she wouldn’t be over there at all because she’d be making enough money,” Ms Spruill said.
Ms Griner’s counterparts in the men’s league make more than 200 times the maximum WNBA salary.
But it was too late for Brittney Griner, who is believed to have entered Russia one week earlier, on 17 February, though the timing remains unclear.
The Russian Federal Customs Service said in a press release that a sniffer dog had led authorities to search the carry-on luggage. A American basketball player and that it had found vape cartridges containing hashish oil. A state-owned Russian news agency, Tass, identified the player as Ms Griner.
Russian authorities only confirmed her detention. the third week of March, though they disclosed she was stopped at the airport in February.