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Brittney Griner Reflects On Her Salary As A Professional Basketball Player — ‘That Pay Gap Is Why I Was In Russia In The First Place’

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Brittney Griner cites the pay gap as her motivation for wanting to play basketball for Russia in the past.

On February 17, 2022, the WNBA athlete had landed at the Sheremetyevo International Airport near Moscow as she was set to play for the Russian Premiere League’s UMMC Ekaterinburg. It was the off-season for the WNBA, and playing overseas would afford Griner the opportunity to earn greater dollars than what she made playing in the WNBA.

Though the events that followed have been widely publicized, including her detainment by Russia for carrying vape cartridges with small amounts of cannabis oil and her subsequent 293-day imprisonment, the reason she was there in the first place has been drawing more attention.

Per Just Women’s Sports, the Russian team had been known to offer significant compensation to WNBA players. Those who have gone overseas to play for the team include Diana Taurasi and Sue Bird.

“The whole reason a lot of us go over is the pay gap,” Griner said during her first press conference after her release from prison, per Fortune. “A lot of us go over there to make an income to support our families, to support ourselves.”

Griner was expecting to earn nearly $1 million playing for the UMMC Ekaterinburg in 2022, which would have amounted to over quadruple her WNBA salary, Fortune notes.

In 2020, a union agreement had been signed which led players in the WNBA to have a maxed salary of $500,000, with the average salary amounting to under $130,000, NPR mentions. In comparison to NBA players, this is a sharp difference, per Boardroom.

Top NBA Players (2022-23) Total Salary

  • Stephen Curry ($45.8 million); Contract: 4 years, $215.4 million
  • Russell Westbrook ($47.1 million); Contract: 5 years, $206.8 million (supermax)
  • LeBron James ($44.5 million); Contract: 2 years, $85.7 million

“We earn about 250 times less than NBA players and have a hard cap on our salaries,” Griner said, according to The Cut. “In the WNBA that year I made around $220,000. Overseas, I earned a million plus. That pay gap is why I was in Russia in the first place.”

Griner’s playing trajectory would take a halt when she was detained at the Russian airport for the cannabis oil. People reports she was given a nine-year sentence in penal colony IK-2 and was ultimately released after serving 10 months of her sentence.

Following the ordeal, Griner states she has no intention of playing overseas and will keep her talents in the United States.

“I’m never going overseas to play again unless I’m representing my country at the Olympics,” she explained, per Fortune. “If I make the team, that would be the only time I would leave U.S. soil.”





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