Brittney Griner is one of the WNBA’s brightest stars.
The 31-year-old is a seven-time All-Star, a two-time Olympic gold medalist and since 2015, she has competed in UMMC Ekaterinburg in the Euroleague during the WNBA’s offseason. But instead of playing alongside her Mercury teammates when the season tipped off May 6, Griner has been detained in Russia since February.
She was taken into custody at Sheremetyevo International Airport near Moscow, where Russian officials said they discovered vape cartridges containing hashish oil in her luggage. According to the Customs Service statement, a criminal case involving the U.S. 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.
Her detainment came amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The league, teammates and fans have shown widespread support, and the U.S. State Department keeps putting pressure on Russia to release her.
Here is a time line of events since Griner’s detainment in February.
February 17: Mercury star is detained.
Although it was not made public until several weeks later, Griner was detained for the vape cartridges containing hashish oil in her luggage. Hashish oil is a more concentrated form of marijuana and is often used in vape form.
February 24: Russia invades Ukraine.
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- Dmitry Bivol Just Wants the War in Ukraine to End
- How Russia Pushed the WNBA to a Crossroads
March 5: News breaks about her detainment.
The New York Times was the first to report the Russian Federal Customs Service’s claims that they detained an American basketball star. Initially, her identity was not revealed by the Russian officials, but they disclosed that the player has won two Olympic gold medals with the United States. Russian news agency TASS, citing a law enforcement source, later identified the athlete as Griner.
March 5: Video emerges of Griner’s luggage being searched.
In footage from the Russian Federal Customs Service obtained by CBS News, a person who appeared to be Griner can be seen being pulled aside by Customs Service officials in the airport. The video then shows someone searching her belongings.
March 6: United States Secretary of State discusses Griner’s detainment.
United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken kept his comments vague, even referring to Griner as “the individual you mentioned” during his press conference. He said, “There’s only so much I can say, given privacy considerations at this point,” but did mention his support.
“Whenever an American is detained anywhere in the world, we of course stand ready to provide every possible assistance,” Blinken said. “And that includes in Russia.”
March 7: Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, speaks out.
March 8: Her booking photo is released, though it is undated.
According to CNN’s Rosa Flores, the photo was aired in a Russian TV segment on March 5, supposedly in a police station. However, it is not clear when the photo was taken.
Griner can be seen holding a piece of white paper, and it’s unclear what was written on the sheet.
March 10: Daniel Fried, who was the former U.S. ambassador to Poland under then President Bill Clinton, says he doesn’t think it’s beneath Russia to detain an American unjustly.
“I can’t say definitively she didn’t [do the crime], but the first thought I had when I read about [the arrest] is this sounds like [the Russians] taking an American hostage,” Fried said in an interview with The Washington Post. “It wouldn’t surprise me at all if they would do that—plant drugs and grab her. The American embassy and the U.S. government have been aware of the possibility of the Russians using Americans in Moscow as bargaining chips.
“It would be just like the Russians to do this—pick somebody, make a case. Unless there is actual evidence [implicating Griner], which would frankly surprise me, I would regard this as a political case, and I feel badly for this person who is caught up in it.”
March 17: Griner’s detention is extended until May 19.
Russian news agency TASS reported that “the court granted the petition of the investigation and extended the term of U.S. citizen Griner’s detention until May 19.”
March 17: U.S. State Dept. tells ESPN it has not had access to Griner.
March 23: U.S. officials meet with the American basketball star.
State Department spokesperson Ned Price told CNN she was in “good condition.”
“Within the past couple hours, an official from our embassy has been granted consular access to Brittney Griner,” Price said. “We were able to check on her condition. We will continue to work very closely with her legal team, with her broader network to see to it that she’s treated fairly. That is a message that we will continue to convey in no uncertain terms to the Russian federation.
“There’s only so much I can say, but what I can say is that our official found Brittney Griner to be in good condition, and we will continue to do everything we can to see to it that she is treated fairly throughout this ordeal.”
April 11: WNBA commissioner assures that she and the league are working with “everybody in our ecosystem” to ensure Griner’s safe return from Russia.
Cathy Engelbert said hours before the start of the WNBA draft, “We continue to be working diligently on bringing Brittney Griner home. This is an unimaginable situation for [Griner] to be in. … Certainly we’re trying everything that we can, every angle, working through with her legal representation, her agent, elected leaders, the administration, just everybody in our ecosystem to try and find ways to get her home safely and as quickly as we can.”
April 27: Trevor Reed’s release sparks hope.
The Biden Administration announced the release of the former Marine, who had been in Russian custody since 2019. It was via a prisoner exchange, and per ESPN, the move sparked hope for Griner’s case.
May 3: U.S. government deems Griner “wrongfully detained.”
ESPN’s T.J. Quinn broke the news that the government had reclassified Griner’s status, but officials declined to say what triggered the change. The decision signals a drastic shift in how officials will try to get the 31-year-old back home on American soil. Until this point, Griner’s case had been handled by the consular office, but now will be passed to the special envoy’s office, according to Quinn.
“The Department of State has determined that the Russian Federation has wrongfully detained U.S. citizen Brittney Griner,” a State Department official told ESPN in a statement. “With this determination, the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Roger Carstens will lead the interagency team for securing Brittney Griner’s release.”
Griner had been detained for 75 days at this point.
May 3: WNBA announces it will honor Griner with a special season-long tribute.
The league introduced a floor decal, which will be used by all 12 teams, featuring the seven-time All-Star’s initials along with her number (No. 42).
May 10: Suns debut tribute to Griner that will remain through the playoffs.
May 13: Griner denied house arrest, detention extended 30 days.
A U.S. Department of State spokesperson told the Post that U.S. diplomats were able to speak with the basketball star during the hearing and that she is doing “as well as can be expected in these circumstances.”
May 17: Agent says Griner is “being used as a political bargaining chip.”
Griner’s agent, Lindsay Kagawa Colas, posted the following tweet on Day 89 of her client’s detainment.
She additionally wrote, “No athlete, representing any country should have to travel in fear of being taken and used as a negotiating tool. We must protect the sanctity of sport and the entire global sports community should stand together and demand #BrittneyGriner‘s release.”
May 17: U.S. Embassy says Russia has prevented them from visiting Griner three times in May.
Authorities have reportedly denied consular access to Griner from U.S. Embassy officials three times this month, according to the U.S. Embassy Moscow’s official Twitter account.
May 17: NBA commissioner Adam Silver addresses league’s role in helping bring Griner home.
“Both the WNBA and its brother league, the NBA, we have a huge responsibility to Brittney Griner as one of our players. Part of our decision to not take a higher profile here frankly came at the suggestion of experts in and out of government who thought the best path to getting Brittney out was not to amplify the issue,” Silver told ESPN’s Malika Andrews the same night as the draft lottery. “Having said that, there’s an enormous role for the public to play through protests or letting their representatives know how strongly they feel about this.”
He added, “Cathy Engelbert, the commissioner of the WNBA, is on this issue every single day, I’m working side-by-side with her. We’re in touch with the White House, the state department, hostage negotiators, every level of government and also through the private sector as well. Our number one priority is her health and safety, and making sure she gets out of Russia.”
May 25: Cherelle Griner appears on “Good Morning America”, says she’s requested a meeting with President Biden.
For the first time since her wife was detained in mid-February, Cherelle Griner gave an interview about the difficulty of the last few months. She revealed to GMA’s Robin Roberts that she has spoken to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, but was still hoping to meet with President Biden.
“I just keep hearing that, you know, he has the power,” Cherelle said, referring to President Biden. “She’s a political pawn. So if they’re holding her because they want you to do something, then I want you to do it.”
Cherelle did say that she’s been able to communicate with her wife through letters, but has not spoken with her directly since the day she was detained.
“I feel every second that BG is not here,” she said, per ESPN’s Angela Rye. “Most people are counting by the days, but it’s not days for me.”
May 28: Griner’s detention in Russia reaches the 100-day mark.
The WNBPA shared a statement on Griner’s detention and encouraged supporters to sign and circulate the ”We Are BG” petition.
Following the release of the WNBPA’s statement, players, teams and coaches from around the league and the world of women’s basketball took to social media to shine a spotlight on Griner on the 100th day of her detention.