After a 10-month detainment in Russia and getting sentenced to nine years in prison on drug charges, Brittney Griner was allowed to return to the United States when the Joe Biden administration negotiated a one-for-one prisoner swap involving convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout on Dec. 8.
Griner landed at Kelly Field in San Antonio, Texas on Dec. 9. Later that month, Griner said she intends to return to the Phoenix Mercury for the 2023 season. Things are still far from normal, as the WNBA does not usually allow charter flights for any of the 12 teams but an exception might have to be made for Griner due to concerns about her safety in commercial flights.
The eight-time WNBA All-Star is still getting back in shape and was not on the roster for the USA Basketball training camp happening Feb. 6-9 in Minneapolis. However, she can be added to the pool of players who will be up for consideration for the 2024 Olympic team any time.
Here is a full timeline of Griner's situation:
Feb. 17: Griner was detained at Sheremetyevo International Airport in Moscow when the Russian Federal Customs Service discovered vape cartridges containing marijuana concentrate hashish oil in her luggage.
Feb. 24: Russia launched a full-scale military attack against Ukraine, prompting the U.S. and other countries to issue severe sanctions against Russia. The detainment of Griner occurred during a time of high tension, making negotiations more difficult.
March 5: The State Department urged American citizens to immediately leave Russia to avoid the "potential for harassment" in an updated advisory.
March 17: A Moscow court extended Griner's pretrial detention until May 19 and denied her request for house arrest, according to Insider. Griner, who is 6-foot-9, had complained about the jail cell's beds being too small for her, per the TASS report. She shared the cell with two other English-speaking inmates, and both reportedly had no prior convictions and were being held for "drug-related articles," per NBC.
March 18: Ekaterina Kalugina, a representative of Moscow's Public Monitoring Commission that oversees how prisoners are treated, said the U.S. consul had yet to visit Griner. Kalugina says this is despite Russian authorities saying they will "create all conditions" for a visit to occur.
March 22: Griner met with U.S. officials for the first time since being held in pre-trial detention.
May 13: Griner made a brief Russian courtroom appearance and learned her pretrial detention was extended until June 18. Alexander Boykov, Griner's lawyer, told the AP that the extension's relatively brief length means his client will soon get a trial. The lawyer added Griner did not have "any complaints about the detention conditions," but it was unclear whether the bed-size situation had been resolved.
April 27: U.S. Marine veteran Trevor Reed is released from Russian custody in a prisoner exchange, which is seen as a positive sign for Griner's potential release.
May 2: The WNBA announces it will honor Griner by installing a decal featuring her initials and No. 42 jersey number on every court around the league.
May 3: The U.S. government declared Griner "wrongfully detained" and reportedly enlisted the help of former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Bill Richardson, who has several years of experience as an international hostage negotiator.
May 17: NBA commissioner Adam Silver announced he and WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert are working "side-by-side" in securing Griner's release. The process led Silver to communicate with "every level" of government.
May 25: Cherelle Griner spoke about the situation in a "Good Morning America" interview -- her first televised interview since Brittney Griner was detained. Cherelle said the two had not verbally communicated in over 100 days, as her wife's phone was taken away shortly after she entered police custody.
June 2: A report revealed Griner received hundreds of emails and letters from players around the WNBA. Russian officials examined the emails and letters sent to Griner before she read them, and Griner had to respond either through writing on paper or dictation.
June 14: Griner's pre-trial detention gets extended for a third time. She was then set to remain in custody until at least July 2.
June 26: Griner attends a preliminary hearing and her detention is extended six months, her fourth extension. The start of her criminal trial was set for July 1 and she was ordered to remain in custody for the duration of the trial.
July 1: More than 130 days after her detainment, Griner officially began her criminal trial. According to TASS, Griner said in court she understood the charges but declined to immediately comment on them. The prosecution questioned two witnesses on Day 1, an airport customs official and an unidentified witness, with only the former speaking in open court, per the Russian news agency RIA-Novosti.
July 7: Griner pleads guilty to drug charges. Despite her plea, she insisted she had "no intent" of breaking the law.
July 10: WNBA honors Griner during the 2022 All-Star Game.
July 14: Griner was expected to testify on the third day of her trial, but she didn't. Instead, she had support from two character witnesses. One of them was Maxim Rybakov, director of Griner's Russian team UMMC Ekaterinburg, and the other was teammate Evgeniia Beliakova. Rybakov told reporters it was the first time he'd seen Griner since February. He said she appeared to look and feel well.
July 17: CNN reported the United States had offered to exchange Bout as part of a potential deal with Russia to release Griner and former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said publicly the U.S. government had put a "substantial proposal on the table" but did not confirm the reports regarding Bout.
July 27: During the first day Griner testified at her trial, she recounted the day of her arrest and said the interpreter did not provide a full translation, explaining she had to use a translation app on her phone to communicate with a customs officer. Griner also said she was also not offered an explanation of her rights or given access to lawyers while being instructed to sign documents.
Aug. 2: Griner's lawyers argued the state-appointed forensic expert who examined the cartridges found in her luggage made some technical and procedural errors. CBS News reported the defense team called another forensic expert, Dmitry Gladyshev, to testify on the stand.
Aug. 4: Griner is sentenced to nine years in prison and fined 1,000,000 Russian rubles -- just over $16,000.
Aug. 13: For the first time since Griner's detainment, Russian officials confirmed they were undergoing negotiations with the U.S. government regarding a potential prisoner swap involving Bout that could bring Griner home. Alexander Datchiev, head of the North America department at the Russian Foreign Ministry, said Russia prefers "silent diplomacy."
Aug. 15: Griner's defense team filed an appeal. They argued her punishment was "excessive."
Sept. 16: Biden met with Cherelle Griner, as well as with Griner's agent, Lindsay Colas. He also met with Whelan's sister. Whelan, described as a corporate security director, has been serving a 16-year prison sentence since 2020 for espionage charges.
Oct. 6: CBS Mornings released an interview with Cherelle Griner, who described the situation with her wife as "terrifying."
Oct. 16: Kremlin aide Yury Ushakov told Rossiya-1 -- a state-owned Russian television channel -- that reaching a deal regarding Griner is not currently a priority.
Oct. 25: Griner's appeal of her prison sentence is rejected.
Nov. 9: Griner gets transferred to a Russian penal colony with her exact whereabouts unknown.
Nov. 17: Lawyers confirm Griner was moved to a penal colony in the Russian region of Mordovia.
Dec. 1: The United States and Russia agreed to one-for-one prisoner exchange.
Dec. 8: Griner was released in exchange for Bout. The deal did not include Whelan. According to CNN, the Biden administration "repeatedly made offers to get Whelan as part of this deal - even after Russia made clear only Griner was acceptable." Biden said his administration "will never give up" on his release.
Dec. 9: Griner landed at Kelly Field in San Antonio, Texas.
Why was Griner in Russia?
According to Cherelle Griner, Brittney Griner plays overseas because of the WNBA's pay. Griner reportedly earns $1 million per season to play for UMMC Ekaterinburg.
"BG would wholeheartedly love to not go overseas," Cherelle Griner told ABC News last May. "She has only had one Thanksgiving in the States in nine years since she's been pro, and she misses all that stuff. Just because, you know, she can't make enough money in the WNBA, like, to sustain her life."
Griner was one of about 70 WNBA players -- nearly half the league's 144 roster spots -- competing internationally during the 2022 offseason. While Griner and Co. have varying reasons for playing internationally, many do so for financial purposes. The WNBA's minimum and maximum salaries are $60,471 and $228,094, respectively. Those numbers are far below what the NBA offers, as that league -- which plays 82 games compared to the WNBA's 36 -- has a minimum salary of $925,000 and maximum salaries starting at more than $28 million annually.
In an interview with 60 Minutes last year, WNBA legend Sue Bird said her starting salary in the league was less than $60,000 -- even though she was the No. 1 pick in the 2002 WNBA Draft. Bird recounted that she made her WNBA salary ten times over while playing overseas after being recruited by Russian team owner Shabtai Kalmanovich. This, however, wasn't a perfect situation as Kalmanovich was a former KGB spy and businessman with a record of operating outside the law. He was shot in 2009 in an incident that investigators concluded was targeted.
In that interview, Bird said she thinks the day will soon come when players don't have to figure out ways to supplement their income.