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Russia Claims It Is Holding WNBA Star, Identified as Brittney Griner, in Custody

Former No. 1 draft pick and WNBA star Brittney Griner is being detained in Russia after the Russian Federal Customs Service found vape cartridges containing hashish oil in her luggage at Sheremetyevo International Airport near Moscow, according to The New York Times.

Per the NYT, the Customs Service’s statement did not reveal the detainee’s identity, but said the player has won two Olympic gold medals with the United States. Russian news agency TASS, citing a law enforcement source, later identified the individual as Griner. 

The 31-year-old Griner is a seven-time WNBA All-Star for the Phoenix Mercury and won gold medals with the U.S. national team in 2016 and 2021.

The Customs Service reportedly released a video of an unidentified traveler, who appears to be Griner, going through security at the airport while wearing a mask and black sweatshirt. The video also shows another individual removing a package from the traveler’s bag. 

According to the Customs Service statement, a criminal case involving the American basketball player “has been opened into the large-scale transportation of drugs,” which can carry a jail sentence of up to 10 years in Russia. The basketball player was allegedly taken into custody in February and the investigation is still ongoing, officials said, per the NYT.

The Mercury released a statement Saturday regarding the situation.

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

USA Basketball echoed a similar sentiment in a statement, saying “Brittney has always handled herself with the utmost professionalism during her long tenure with USA Basketball and her safety and wellbeing are our primary concerns.”

The WNBA added that Griner “has the WNBA’s full support and our main priority is her swift and safe return to the United States.”

The detainment comes amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has reportedly led many WNBA players who compete in Russia to make plans to leave the country. Last week, in a statement to Sports Illustrated, a WNBA spokesperson stated that the few players who were competing in Ukraine this offseason had also left that country.

“The league has also been in contact with WNBA players who are in Russia, either directly or through their agents,” the statement read. “We will continue to closely monitor the situation.”

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