WNBPA president Nneka Ogwumike speaks out on Brittney Griner’s detainment
Nearly two months since Brittney Griner’s arrest in Russia, the WNBA continues to feel the absence of the Phoenix Mercury center.
“It’s tough,” Women’s National Basketball Players Association president Nneka Ogwumike said on Good Morning America Tuesday morning. “BG is us. We are BG. We’re really most concerned about her health and safety, especially her mental health. We’re hearing, in that respect, she’s OK but we want her home.”
On Feb. 17, Griner was arrested in Russia for possession of vape cartridges that allegedly contained oils derived from cannabis. The court ruled that Griner would remain in custody until May 19.
Griner was in the country playing for the Russian based team UMMC Ekaterinburg for five games following the 2021 WNBA season.
Playing overseas is not abnormal in the league, as Ogwumike mentioned her experience of playing in Russia, Poland and China for seven years in the interview.
“We go over there to supplement our incomes and quite frankly, we go over there to maintain our game,” Ogwumike said. “Our teams encourage us to keep up with our game by going over there and being more competitive.”
There is also more money over in Russia, as some of the top players can make close to $1 million a year. Seattle’s Jewell Loyd, the highest paid player in the WNBA, makes $231,515 annually.
For Ogwumike, the reason for Griner being in Russia in the first place goes back to the difference in wages between the WNBA and NBA players.
“It’s disappointing that the question of it being a gender issue is top of my mind now when it comes to this type of circumstance,” Ogwumike said. “The reality is she’s over there because of a gender issue, pay inequity.”
While earning extra money in global basketball is a bonus for WNBA players, there is also the desire to remain in the United States year round.
“I had a good experience in Russia. Obviously the circumstances are very different … we don’t want to play 12 months out of the year,” Ogwumike said. “We want to play here. We’re treated well, that is the truth. But we don’t want to feel as though we have to go over there to get what we want to get at home.”
Ogwumike is not the only member of the league hoping for Griner’s return. On Monday night, the 2022 WNBA Draft opened with a message focused on Griner.
“Before we get into tonight’s events, I want to take a moment to reiterate the WNBA support for Phoenix Mercury star Brittney Griner,” WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert said. “Please know that getting her home safely continues to be our top priority. And while we are facing an extraordinarily complex challenge there is strength in community, especially the WNBA.”