Brittney Griner is an Olympic gold medalist and WNBA basketball player who is facing drug smuggling charges in Russia.
The news was revealed on March 5, 2022, by Interfax, a Russian state news agency. Although that story did not name Griner as the player under arrest, The New York Post was among sites to identify her, citing an independent Russian news agency called Lenta.
According to her WNBA bio, Griner — who plays center for the Phoenix Mercury — has been playing in the WNBA since 2014. The New York Times notes that Griner is a seven-time WNBA All-Star who won Olympic gold medals in 2016 and 2021.
Although the arrest happened in February 2022, Russian media outlets first reported it in March 2022. The announcement of the arrest comes amidst an international outcry over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“The detainee is a professional basketball player, a member of the US National Basketball Association, a two-time Olympic basketball champion in the US team,” the Federal Custom Service of Russia told Interfax.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. A Service Dog Alerted Authorities of Possible Drugs in Luggage at the Airport, Russian News Agencies Say
A translation of the Interfax article says, “the Federal Customs Service reports that in February a US citizen was detained at the Sheremetyevo airport with a consignment of drugs.”
The article continues, “A criminal case was initiated, an American was arrested.”
According to the Interfax report, the arrest occurred in February after Griner arrived in Russia from New York.
“A service dog from the canine department of Sheremetyevo Customs indicated the possible presence of narcotic drugs in the escorted luggage,” Interfax reported.
According to Interfax, Griner is facing criminal charges that carry a five- to 10-year prison sentence and is in custody. The charge is “smuggling of narcotic drugs in a significant amount.”
Interfax confirmed that the arrested player was a woman. Lenta.ru reported that Griner was arrested in Moscow.
2. Griner Has Played Basketball in Russia
Griner’s last visible Facebook post came on February 9, 2021, when she wrote, “I’ve never been shy about saying I definitely used counseling a lot when I left, and it’s helped me out tremendously. I think more people should be open to talking about mental health issues. Instead of holding in so much.”
That post shared a 2021 ESPN story that spoke about Griner’s mental health.
The ESPN story reported that Griner was in South Carolina for a training camp but “recently returned to overseas play with UMMC Ekaterinburg in Russia, and will go back there after this camp.”
According to The New York Post, Griner “has played during the WNBA off-season for the Russian team Ekaterinburg in the Euroleague since 2015.”
USA Basketball has yet to comment.
3. The Drugs in Question Were ‘Vapes,’ Reports Say
According to Interfax, the drugs in question were vapes.
“When examining the luggage of a US citizen using fluoroscopic equipment, an employee of the drug smuggling department of Sheremetyevo Customs drew attention to the presence of so-called ‘vapes’ in the luggage, which are cartridges for an electronic heating system,” Interfax reported.
The site claimed that analysis of the vapes found that they contained hash oil.
Griner last posted a basketball picture on her Instagram page in early February 2022.
4. Griner Has Praised Her Wife on Instagram
Many of her posts on Instagram involve Griner’s love for her wife. On January 1, she wrote:
What a way to start off the new year than to wake up next to you baby. It doesn’t matter what happens in the world this year or any year ; as long as I got you by my side I’m ready! Happy New Years everyone. Hope y’all’s start was as beautiful as mine.
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In 2019, she wrote, “WISHING MY WIFE A VERY HAPPY BIRTHDAY TODAY! Everyday with you is spectacular but when I get to celebrate your life and all that you are is just breathtaking ❤️! To many more my love 😍 Muah!”
In 2020, Griner left her wife Glory Johnson after 28 days of marriage and “a physical altercation between the two 24-year-olds at their Goodyear, Arizona, home resulted in arrests and league suspensions for both,” according to People.
She then moved on to new wife Cherelle Watson, according to Daily Mail. The outlet reported that Griner and Watson first started dating while they were students at Baylor and rekindled their relationship after Griner’s split from Johnson.
5. Griner Was Born & Raised in Houston, Texas
According to Team USA, Griner, a center, stands 6 feet 8 inches tall. She was born and lives in Houston, Texas, where she graduated from Nimitz High School.
She studied at Baylor University and plays for the Phoenix Mercury. She is a two-time Olympic gold medalist, from the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo and the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.
The site reports that Griner served in several world championships. She is the daughter of Raymond and Sandra Griner and has three older siblings named D, Shkera and Pier. “Volunteers with former Houston Rocket guard Steve Francis’ Holiday Bowling and Christmas Party for underprivileged children…Married to Cherelle Watson, who she met while at Baylor,” the site says.
According to her profile on the WNBA website, “if she weren’t playing basketball, she would follow in [her father’s] footsteps and become a police officer.”