To earn extra money, some WNBA stars are still opting to play overseas to make up for their modest salaries on American soil. However, some players are fearful of returning to Russia due to issues surrounding Brittney Griner’s lengthy prison sentence. Many of the WNBA’s brightest stars, who typically play in Russia during the offseason, have signed with different international teams in the interim until Griner’s case cools off and political tensions between Russia and Ukraine quell.
Like Griner, Connecticut Suns player Jonquel Orthea Jones was traveling back and forth to play regularly in Russia, but due to tensions rising with the Pheonix Mercury star’s case, she’s opted to play in Turkey this offseason instead.
Some players are heading to Turkey
“What would make me feel comfortable about going back to Russia?” Jones said when asked about the situation by The New York Times (NYT). “B.G. being home, first and foremost. U.S.A. and Russia relations being better. The war in Ukraine being over with…When you’re so close to that person it’s a little bit different.”
According to WNBA agent Mike Cound, Turkey appears to be supporting athletes who are worried about returning to the politically tense country as Griner’s fight for freedom continues. Many players like Griner were drawn to Russia to play with UMMC Yekaterinburg due to the good salary package offered by the team, but now that Griner has been sentenced, that might not be an option for athletes looking to boost their income.
“It’s taken some money off the table for some people,” Cound told the NYT. “It’s lowered the overall average salaries a little bit, but other countries, especially Turkey, have stepped up, upped their money because they realize they can get players they didn’t previously have access to.” In addition to Jones, Las Vegas Aces star Chelsea Gray and Brianna January of the Seattle Storm will also be heading to Turkey.
Cound added that some parents of rookie players have expressed safety concerns given the tumultuous climate. “There are a couple of parents of rookies who will be, ‘I want to travel over with them and check things out to be sure they’re safe,” he added.
Some WNBA stars may never go back to Russia
A few other basketball stars who were scheduled to play in Russia this off-season have also chosen not to return. Some are heading to play in places like Isreal, Spain, and Istanbul, where former Yekaterinburg players Breanna Stewart and Emma Meesseman are scheduled to team up with Fenerbahce.
“I can tell you there are people that will never go back to Russia,” WNBA player Cierra Burdick, who has played in Russia and across Europe said. “I think it just depends on the individual and what they’re comfortable doing. For some people, Europe is not for them. A lot has happened in the world where people just don’t feel safe anymore.”
Los Angeles Sparks guard Lexie Brown said she wouldn’t step foot in Russia even if she had the chance. “I never really cared how well they treated the Americans, the Yekat players. You got to look deep down, you got to kind of do your research about how they treat their citizens in general. And it was just not a place that I wanted to accept money from,” Brown added.
WNBA players can make big bucks overseas
Under the WNBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), on average, players can receive $130,000 in compensation, AP News notes. Top players in the league can earn more than $500,000 from their salary, tournaments, or marketing agreements, but there are salary caps.
In contrast, overseas, where there are no restrictions, players can make up to $1 million. This off-season, almost half of the WNBA’s 144 players were overseas. Marcus Crenshaw, another agent with the league said he hopes to see a day when players won’t have to depend on overseas opportunities to “make a good living.”
As previously reported, earlier this month, a Russian judge slammed Brittney Griner with a 9-year prison sentence for bringing cannabis oil into the country. Lawyers for the two-time Olympian have filed an appeal, but the terms of the agreement remain unclear.