WNBA's Brittney Griner reportedly detained in Russia after officials found hashish oil in luggage

Nick Natario Image
Sunday, March 6, 2022
WNBA player Brittney Griner reportedly detained in Russia
Like many WNBA players, Griner, 31, has long played overseas in the winter months, most recently in Russia.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- WNBA All-Star Brittney Griner was arrested last month at a Moscow airport after Russian authorities said a search of her luggage revealed vape cartridges, now her biggest fans are rooting for her return.

The Russian Customs Service said Saturday that the cartridges were identified as containing oil derived from cannabis, which could carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison. The customs service identified the person arrested as a player for the U.S. women's team and did not specify the date of her arrest.

Russian media reported the player was Griner, and her agent, Lindsay Kagawa Colas, did not dispute those reports.

Griner's former high school coach, Debbie Jackson, is struggling to comprehend the news. ABC13's Nick Natario spoke to Jackson who was emotional and had tears in her eyes talking about the situation.

"Knowing Brittney, she's a great person. She's been playing overseas for years. She's been playing in Russia for years. She's not stupid. You just don't know what to believe. There are so many different things. You don't know what's true, and what's false," said Jackson.

Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee is demanding for Griner's release, and has asked the state department to get involved.

"I don't want to disregard a sovereign nation, but Putin has disregarded sovereign nations his entire service in this world. Anyone that is killing and attacking and destroying Ukraine that has not bothered them has no right to hold Ms. Griner, period," said Lee.

Russian authorities released surveillance video Saturday that appears to show Griner at the airport, with an agent going through her bag. There's no date of when this took place. However, Lee said it happened within the last month.

"We are aware of the situation with Brittney Griner in Russia and are in close contact with her, her legal representation in Russia, her family, her teams, and the WNBA and NBA," Griner's agent, Kagawa Colas, said Saturday. "As this is an ongoing legal matter, we are not able to comment further on the specifics of her case but can confirm that as we work to get her home, her mental and physical health remain our primary concern."

Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner during Game 4 of a WNBA basketball playoff series against the Las Vegas Aces, Oct. 6, 2021, in Phoenix. Las Vegas won 93-76.
AP Photo/Rick Scuteri

On Saturday, the State Department issued a "do not travel" advisory for Russia because of its invasion of Ukraine and urged all U.S. citizens to depart immediately, citing factors including "the potential for harassment against U.S. citizens by Russian government security officials" and "the Embassy's limited ability to assist" Americans in Russia.

Griner, who plays for the WNBA's Phoenix Mercury, has played in Russia for the last seven years in the winter, earning over $1 million per season - more than quadruple her WNBA salary. She last played for her Russian team UMMC Ekaterinburg on Jan. 29 before the league took a two-week break in early February for the FIBA World Cup qualifying tournaments.

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More than a dozen WNBA players were playing in Russia and Ukraine this winter, including league MVP Jonquel Jones and Courtney Vandersloot and Allie Quigley of the champion Chicago Sky. The WNBA confirmed Saturday that all players besides Griner had left both countries.

The 31-year-old Griner has won two Olympic gold medals with the U.S., a WNBA championship with the Mercury and a national championship at Baylor. She is a seven-time All-Star.

"Brittney Griner has the WNBA's full support and our main priority is her swift and safe return to the United States," the league said in a statement.

The Phoenix Mercury has released a statement regarding her detainment :

"We are aware of and are closely monitoring the situation with Brittney Griner in Russia. We remain in constant contact with her family, her representation, the WNBA and NBA. We love and support Brittney and at this time our main concern is her safety, physical and mental health, and her safe return home."

Griner is a Houston native. She attended Nimitz High School and played basketball under Coach Debbie Jackson in 2007.

ABC13 has reached out to the league and is waiting for more information.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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