Brittney Griner's wife, Cherelle, spoke with ESPN's Angela Rye about the WNBA star's detainment.
The 6-foot-9 center has been in Russian custody since her February 17 arrest at a Moscow airport.
In their final conversation, Griner told her wife "she didn't want to go back" to Russia to compete.
Cherelle Griner still remembers the final conversation she had with her wife, WNBA superstar Brittney Griner, before she boarded a flight, bound for Russia, that would ultimately end in her arrest.
Now, nearly 100 days after the 6-foot-9 Phoenix Mercury center was wrongfully detained for purportedly traveling with hashish oil in her luggage, Cherelle is speaking out.
"It's the irony of all of it," Griner told ESPN's Angela Rye in an interview that aired Wednesday evening. "She didn't want to go back. She just said she was so exhausted from always having to go overseas."
Griner was headed to Russia in the first place to play for European powerhouse club UMMC Ekaterinburg, just as she's done every WNBA off-season since 2014. About half of the WNBA's players travel overseas in the winter to supplement their relatively low salaries from the domestic league. Several other WNBA stars — including Breanna Stewart, Jonquel Jones, Allie Quigley, Courtney Vandersloot, and Emma Meesseman — also play for UMMC Ekaterinburg.
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All of these players command significantly higher salaries abroad than they can possibly earn in the states. This year, Griner is earning a league-maximum $227,900 annual base salary from the Mercury, with a potential to earn up to $500,000 between bonuses and marketing opportunities should she stay in America for the winter.
But only in recent years has her payday from the league climbed into the six-figure range. With UMMC Ekaterinburg, she reportedly earns $1 million per season, according to The Arizona Republic's Jeff Metcalfe.
"If the WNBA paid BG what she makes overseas and treated her the way she's treated overseas, she wouldn't go," Cherelle said.
And even despite the vast gap between her WNBA salary and the one she received abroad, Griner was still on the verge of calling it quits on her overseas basketball career. After Phoenix lost to the Chicago Sky in the 2021 WNBA Finals, Griner admitted that it was "getting harder and harder" to will herself to pick up and head to Russia after a full season in the US.
"I'm not really looking forward to it, honestly," Griner said at the time. "Leaving and having to leave my family and go overseas again. But [I'm] definitely going over this off-season, and [I'll] just take it year-by-year."
Griner made similar points as she was preparing to return to Russia on February 17, her wife recalled. Cherelle tried to assure the two-time Olympic gold medalist that this could be her "last year overseas."
"'You don't have to go back anymore,'" Cherelle remembers telling her wife. "I was like, 'We'll figure something else out when it comes to pay,' because obviously there is a tremendous difference in the amount of money she makes when she's playing in the WNBA versus when she goes overseas, and so that's why it's been something that she had to do."
Check out Cherelle's full interview with Rye below:
—ESPN (@espn) May 26, 2022
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