Everything you want to know about Brittney Griner

The life, career and controversies of Brittney Griner

Brittney Griner thegrio.com
Brittney Griner of the Phoenix Mercury during the first half in Game Four of the 2021 WNBA semifinals at Footprint Center on October 6, 2021, in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

There’s no doubt that Brittney Griner is one of the most impressive female athletes in the world. She dominates on the basketball court, and her skills are awe-inspiring. However, in 2022, Griner was arrested and detained in Russia, leading to negotiations between the Russian government and the United States. Let’s take a closer look at Brittney Griner – her life, career, arrest, and release. 

Early Life                                            

Brittney Griner, full name Brittney Yyvette Griner, was born in Houston, Texas, on October 18, 1990. She grew up with her three older siblings (D, Shkera, and Pier) and parents, Sandra and Raymond Griner. Her father was a two-tour Vietnam War veteran and a Harris County deputy sheriff.

From an early age, Brittney displayed an incredible talent for basketball. She began playing the sport at the age of nine and quickly showed an innate ability to dominate on the court. Her family moved around quite a bit when Brittney was growing up; she lived in Oklahoma and Arizona but eventually settled back in Texas, where she went to Houston’s Nimitz High School.

Griner began practicing with the boys’ basketball team in her sophomore year. She also worked out with a Nimitz football coach to build up her leg strength in order to learn how to dunk. Shaquille O’Neal even wanted to meet with her after a YouTube video of her dunks garnered millions of views during her junior season.

Brittney Griner thegrio.com
Brittney Griner, #42 of the Phoenix Mercury, attempts a free-throw shot against the Seattle Storm during game three of the WNBA Western Conference Finals on August 31, 2018, in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

College Career

After playing varsity basketball in high school and capturing the attention of college scouts all over the country, Brittney Griner was offered a scholarship to play for Baylor University.

Griner blocked 223 shots as a rookie, which was a record for a single season, placing her among the best shot blockers in women’s basketball history. But early on, she was drawing attention and headlines for more than just her playing prowess. Her controversial punch that broke an opponent’s nose in a 2010 game during her first season caused her to be suspended for two games.

Still, she steered Baylor to an NCAA title in 2012, capping the team’s undefeated season (40–0). As the best collegiate women’s player, Griner won both the Wooden Award and the Naismith Award. She was also named the AP Player of the Year.

Griner decided to stay for the 2012–13 season despite rumors that she would leave Baylor to play for the WNBA draft. Griner once more won the Naismith, Wooden, and AP awards despite Baylor failing to successfully defend its NCAA championship.

She scored 3,283 points during her college career to finish among the best players in NCAA history.

Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner thegrio.com
Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner (42) looks to pass as Chicago Sky center Candace Parker defends during the first half of game 1 of the WNBA basketball Finals, Sunday, Oct. 10, 2021, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ralph Freso, File)

Professional Career

In 2013, Brittney Griner was selected as the first overall pick in the WNBA draft. She was chosen by the Phoenix Mercury and quickly made an impact on the league; in her first season, she won both Rookie of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year honors. 

Brittney continued to dominate on the court, and her skills earned her a multi-year contract extension with the Phoenix Mercury.

For two weeks in September 2011, while coach Geno Auriemma was in Europe, Griner competed for the United States national team. The only member of the group with college playing experience was Griner. 

Brittney Griner at the Olympics

Griner competed in the Summer Olympics for the US women’s basketball team in 2016. She won her first Olympic gold medal when they beat Spain 101–72 in the championship game.

Griner competed in her second Olympics in 2020 after being selected. Once more, she contributed to Team USA taking home the gold.

Brittney Griner, #15 of Team United States thegrio.com
Brittney Griner, #15 of Team United States, poses for photographs with her gold medal during the Women’s Basketball medal ceremony on day sixteen of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic games. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Brittney Griner’s Net Worth

As of 2022, Griner’s net worth is $5 million. Basketball games in Russia brought in $1.4 million of her $5 million total, which could help explain what she was doing in Russia in the first place.

Other players have started to look overseas for higher salaries, too. Griner made the highest salary possible for women’s professional basketball in the United States during her final season with the Phoenix Mercury, taking home about $220,000.

Brittney Griner’s Height

Brittney Griner is 6’9″. At that height, she is surpassed in WNBA history only by Heidi Gillingham at 6’10” and Malgorzata Dydek at 7’2″.

Brittney Griner’s Wife

Cherelle Watson

In August 2018, Griner proposed to Cherelle Watson, and the two wed in June 2019. Later, Cherelle changed her last name from Watson to Griner. After Brittney Griner was imprisoned in Russia, Cherelle Griner fought openly for her release.

Cherelle Griner, wife of Brittney Griner thegrio.com
Cherelle Griner, the wife of Brittney Griner, speaks during a rally to support the release of detained American professional athlete Britney Griner at Footprint Center on July 06, 2022 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Glory Johnson

Griner proposed to Glory Johnson, a fellow WNBA player, on August 14, 2014. They were both detained on disorderly conduct and assault charges on April 22, 2015. The police had been called following a fight between them inside their Phoenix, Arizona, home. Both of them were injured. 

Despite this, they still got married a month later, on May 8, 2015, in Phoenix. After Griner admitted guilt to charges of disorderly conduct on May 15, 2015, the WNBA suspended Johnson and Griner for seven games each. Additionally, Griner had to finish 26 weeks of counseling for domestic abuse.

Griner and Johnson made the announcement that Johnson was expecting twins through in vitro fertilization on June 4, 2015. The day after the announcement, Griner requested an annulment on the grounds of duress and fraud. However, the request was denied. On October 12, 2015, Johnson gave birth to twin girls. Johnson obtained an order requiring Griner pay child support.

In June 2016, the couple’s divorce became final.

Brittney Griner’s Detainment and Conviction in Russia

Detainment of Brittney Griner

Brittney Griner was detained on February 17, 2022, as she entered Russia to play for Ekaterinburg. Authorities asserted that her luggage included vape cartridges containing cannabis oil, a prohibited substance in Russia. 

Many believed that Griner’s arrest was politically motivated. As she remained behind bars, calls for her release increased along with the level of media attention. However, some were concerned that Griner would become a more valuable hostage due to the public outcry.

 Brittney Griner thegrio.com
WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner is escorted to a courtroom for a hearing, in Khimki outside Moscow, Russia, Thursday, July 7, 2022. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

Arrest and Trial of Brittney Griner

Brittney Griner entered a guilty plea at the start of her trial in July 2022, despite the fact that she claimed to have accidentally packed the cannabis oil. Griner’s attorneys later claimed that she had a prescription for the drug. 

The trial went forward in accordance with Russian judicial regulations, and Griner was found to be guilty of smuggling illegal drugs with the intent to commit a crime on August 4, 2022. She was given a nine-year term in a penal colony. 

Griner stated in her testimony that she was made to sign documents in Russian that she could not comprehend after being arrested. A Russian court dismissed her appeal in October 2022.

This occurred amid rumors that Griner and other prisoners were the subject of negotiations between the United States and Russia.

 Brittney Griner thegrio.com
WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner leaves a courtroom after a hearing, in Khimki just outside Moscow, Russia, Monday, June 27, 2022. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

Brittney Griner in a Russian Penal Colony

Griner was transferred from a detention facility close to Moscow to an unspecified prison location on November 4 after getting the nine-year sentence. She was then transferred to the Female Penal Colony IK-2 in Yavas, about 500 kilometers (300 miles) southeast of Moscow. 

Reuters noted that the colony is in Mordovia, close to where fellow U.S. citizen Paul Whelan is currently serving a 16-year sentence after being accused of espionage, though Whelan is in a different penal colony.

The Prisoner Swap for Brittney Griner

On July 27, 2022, U.S. President Joe Biden gave his approval to a potential deal involving Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan, with arms dealer Viktor Bout offered in exchange. Ultimately, Griner was released, but Whelan was not.

Viktor Bout Merchant of Death thegrio.com
Suspected Russian arms smuggler Viktor Bout is led by armed Thai police commandos as he arrives at the criminal court in Bangkok, Thailand in Oct. 5, 2010. (AP Photo/Apichart Weerawong, File)

As reported by CNN, Biden acknowledged that Whelan’s family “have to have such mixed emotions today,” as Griner was released while Whelan remained in Russia. Biden did, however, promise to “never give up” on returning Whelan as well.

Brittney Griner has now been reunited with her wife, who has publicly thanked activists and others who campaigned for Brittney’s release.

In a video released by Russian media, newly-freed WNBA star Brittney Griner remarked, “I’m good,” as she sat in the airplane on her way home. Asked how she was feeling, she replied, “I’m happy.” (Source: YouTube.com/ABC News)