Brittney Griner: Why so many WNBA stars play basketball overseas


For many years, WNBA players have regularly traveled overseas during the WNBA offseason to make the most of the higher salaries they can earn in international leagues.

Phoenix Mercury star Brittney Griner – who was arrested last month at Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow after being found with hash oil – has been doing so since the 2014/15 season, returning to play for the club every year. Russian team UMMC Ekaterinburg.

Under the current WNBA (CBA) collective bargaining agreement, the average player cash compensation is nearly $130,000. For top stars, the WNBA says they can earn “over $500,000,” three times what they could earn under the old CBA.

“Other top players will have the opportunity to win between $200,000 and $300,000,” read a WNBA statement on the new CBA.

These salary increases have been put in place in part to try to prevent players from traveling abroad, but these figures remain low compared to salaries in Russia.

The top WNBA stars who compete in the Russian Women’s Basketball Premier League – where there is no salary cap like there is in the WNBA – can often expect to earn over a million dollars per year.

“Griner was in Russia for work: playing for UMMC Yekaterinburg, where in 2021 she helped the team win their fifth EuroLeague Women’s Championship,” Tamryn Spruill, a journalist who covers women’s basketball, wrote on the petition she set up for Griner, which aims to raise awareness of her plight.

“Like many athletes competing in the WNBA, Griner plays overseas during the WNBA offseason because his salary is exponentially higher in other countries,” Spruill wrote on the petition page.

“For WNBA players, that means playing overseas, while NBA rookies who have yet to play a professional game receive salaries several times higher than WNBA veterans designated All -Star, title winners, could hope for,” added Spruill.

“These realities are not the fault of the players. They just want to be fairly paid like their male counterparts, and they don’t deserve to be entangled in geopolitical turmoil for that.

This winter, seven-time All-Star Griner, reigning league MVP Jonquel Jones and current WNBA champion Chicago Sky’s Courtney Vandersloot were among the players competing in the Russia and Ukraine leagues.

According to the New York Times, nearly half of the WNBA’s 144 players traveled to play overseas this past offseason.

“Playing overseas has benefits because players can improve their style and improve their individual technique,” Janeth Arcain, a retired WNBA player and current agent, told CNN.

“But negatively there is a factor that you will be tired for the new WNBA season and that can cause injuries and maybe you will be out of season.

“I don’t think the WNBA salaries are enough, so a lot of players will be playing in other countries so they can increase their income and be able to have and provide a better quality of life for themselves and their family members.”

In the past, stars such as Diana Taurasi, Becky Hammon and Sue Bird have also performed in Russia. In 2015, Taurasi opted out of the WNBA for a year after his Russian team, UMMC Ekaterinburg, offered to pay him more than his season’s WNBA salary.

Hammon, who grew up in Rapid City, South Dakota, even became a naturalized Russian citizen in 2008.

That same year, while a WNBA MVP voting runner-up, Hammon caused a stir when she decided to dress for the Russian national team at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

She said she felt overlooked by USA Basketball for a spot on the national team, but still wanted to fulfill her dream of playing in the Olympics. Hammon also played for the Russian team at the London Games in 2012.

Arcain, who is a four-time WNBA champion and former WNBA All-Star, thinks lucrative international deals mean players will continue to compete overseas for the foreseeable future, but says there are ways to the WNBA to tempt its stars to stay on American soil. during the offseason.

“[They can] continue to provide other types of off-season work, better salaries and in a more attractive way so that these players stay in the country and are better prepared for next season,” she said.

“When we talk about the NBA, we are talking about a league that is over 75 years old. I know the WNBA is 26 years old and it will still go a long way, but the salary compensations can be much more attractive because women also put a lot of supporters in the gymnasium”