WNBA star Brittney Griner has been sentenced to nine and a half years in prison in Russia on drug charges
US WNBA star Brittney Griner has been sentenced to nine and a half years in prison by Russian prosecutors after the Kremlin closed an extraordinarily politically charged trial.
Russian prosecutors said the Phoenix Mercury basketball player’s arrest was “fully proven” and demanded that she serve nearly a full decade in a maximum-security prison and pay a hefty fine.
In her closing statement, Griner told the court she made an “honest mistake.”
“Therefore, I plead guilty to my charges, but I had no intention of breaking the law.”
So who is WNBA star Brittney Griner and why was she arrested?
Who is Brittney Griner?
Born in Houston, Texas in 1990, Griner began playing basketball while attending Nimitz High School. During her sophomore year, Griner trained with the boys’ basketball team before working with a soccer coach to develop her strength.
During her junior year, a video of Griner’s dunks went viral on YouTube and led to her meeting basketball star Shaquille O’Neal.
After school, Griner attended Baylor University in Waco, Texas, where she played college basketball and blocked 223 shots as a freshman – an all-time record in a single season.
She is the only NCAA player to score both 2,000 points and 500 blocks and was named 2012 All-American AP Player of the Year.
Picked first overall by Phoenix Mercury in the 2013 WNBA draft, Griner thrived in her rookie season and became one of the league’s most dominant defensive ends.
Griner has also represented her country at the 2016 and 2020 Olympics, guiding her team to gold medals on both occasions.
Griner is an eight-time WNBA All-Star, two-time WNBA scoring champion, and eight-time WNBA block leader, among several other honors she has received.
The 6-foot-9-inch athlete is also one of only 11 women to have an Olympic gold medal, an NCAA championship, a FIBA World Championship gold medal, and a WNBA championship.
Why was Griner arrested?
Back in February, Griner was arrested at a Moscow airport after authorities found vape canisters containing cannabis oil.
She had traveled to Russia during the off-season to play in the Russian Superliga.
The cannabis oil had been recommended by a doctor, and in their closing statement, Griner’s attorney spoke about the pressures Griner faces and compared their situation to Usain Bolt.
The US has said that Griner was “wrongly imprisoned” and argued that the charges against her were designed to exert political pressure on states.
US officials have said Russia hopes to swap Griner and Paul Whelan (a former US Marine arrested on espionage charges in 2020) for convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout.
A guilty verdict would be needed for the prisoner swap to go ahead.
Griner himself has said, “I know everyone is always talking about ‘political pawn’ and ‘politics,’ but I hope that’s a long way from this courtroom.”
Russia has already swapped ex-Marine Trevor Reed for Konstantin Yaroshenko, a pilot held in the US for drug smuggling.