Monday December 4, 2023

WNBA Star’s Detention in Russia Spotlights Salary Disparities

  • Every year, countless players travel abroad to secure paychecks often double those of top WNBA salaries.
  • This offseason, Griner was one of about 70 players overseas — though other players in Russia or Ukraine have since left.
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY/Design: Alex Brooks
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When WNBA star Brittney Griner was arrested and detained in Russia, she was on her way to play overseas — a lucrative offseason activity for WNBA players.

Every year, countless players travel abroad to secure paychecks often double those of top WNBA salaries. This offseason, Griner was one of about 70 players overseas — though other players in Russia or Ukraine have since left.

  • Players could make up to $500,000 including bonuses with the league’s current CBA — but that’s still a fraction of what players make in Russia.
  • Last year, Griner made a little over $221,000 on the Phoenix Mercury, per Spotrac.
  • Griner’s Russian team, UMMC Ekaterinburg — where she’s played since 2014, and which has attracted numerous WNBA players over the years — pays out millions annually. Diana Taurasi reportedly made $1.5 million playing for the team in 2015.

And while the WNBA claims it cannot fund perks like charter flights, Russian teams reportedly provide players with top-flight accommodations from luxury apartments to personal drivers.

Follow The Money

UMMC Ekaterinburg is located in Yekaterinburg, an enclave east of the Urals — more than 6,000 miles from Griner’s WNBA home in Phoenix. 

It’s a European powerhouse that has won several titles — with the help of funding from Russian oligarchs. UMMC is named after the Ural Mining and Metallurgical Company. Its billionaire CEO, Andrei Kozitsyn, serves as team president. 

Since Russia invaded Ukraine, UMMC was kicked out of the EuroLeague. Kozitsyn was named in a recent U.S. bill aiming to sanction Russia.

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