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WNBA players can earn more money in Russia than U.S., but it’s a lonely time for some

5 min read

For the elite athletes in the WNBA, shelling out the offseason enjoying in Russia can signify earning much more revenue than they can make back household — occasionally even two or a few occasions as a great deal.

But these who have carried out that also describe the loneliness of remaining absent from family and mates, of having difficulties with an unfamiliar language and lifestyle, and of residing in a place with only a several hours of sunlight in the winter and temperatures well below freezing.

Brittney Griner is a person of those players who went to Russia in recent a long time to generate further cash. For the two-time Olympian, nevertheless, it has turned into a prolonged nightmare.


Considering the fact that arriving at a Moscow airport in mid-February, she has been detained by law enforcement immediately after they described discovering vape cartridges allegedly containing cannabis oil in her luggage. Still in jail, she is awaiting trial following month on expenses that could convey up to 10 yrs in prison.

Her arrest arrived at a time of heightened political tensions in excess of Ukraine. Considering the fact that then, Russia has invaded Ukraine and remains at war.

A 50 percent-dozen American gamers contacted by The Connected Push shared their ordeals on actively playing in Russia. Even though none observed themselves in the exact situation as Griner, they explained issues this sort of as isolation and boredom, aside from basketball.

“Playing there was not simple simply because the life-style and the way of residing is a ton unique than what you experience in other locations in Europe and America,” reported DeLisha Milton-Jones, 1 of the 1st marquee American gamers to play in Russia in the early 2000s.

“The extremes of the weather — it’s pitch black dark at 5 p.m. I experienced to use my major jacket warming up occasionally since it was minus-40 degrees outside the house,” reported Milton-Jones, who played for UMKC Ekaterinburg — the exact staff as Griner.

The former All-American at Florida, WNBA All-Star and two-time WNBA champion with the Los Angeles Sparks stated the final decision to enjoy in Russia was simply just a “business a person.”

In the early 2000s, leading WNBA gamers could receive about $125,000 a calendar year as part of a advertising deal with the league. Now, the wage for elite players is about $500,000. By participating in in Russia, those players can get paid yet another $1 million to $1.5 million.

Gamers say the Russian teams try to make them as relaxed as doable, such as at times giving motorists and translators. The golf equipment also give gamers more days off through breaks, figuring out they have extended journey again to the U.S., if they go home.

Residences supplied by the groups are similar with what the gamers are accustomed to in the WNBA, which include Western-type kitchens and laundry services, and they also have accessibility to streaming expert services and online video phone calls.

Milton-Jones, 47, played in other European leagues but said Russia paid out the most at the time. And none topped UMKC Ekaterinburg, which proceeds to be an interesting destination for players.

Milton-Jones helped the club gain its initial EuroLeague title. The team’s proprietor, Shabtai Kalmanovich, altered the standard of pay out and living for WNBA players in Russia just before he was shot and killed in Moscow in 2009.

“We chartered. Did almost everything five-star,” Milton-Jones mentioned at United states of america Basketball teaching camp previously this month. “He would just spoil us. He’d mail us to France for a weekend and give us 1000’s of bucks to go buying on a non-public aircraft. No issue the club, you didn’t know exactly where the cash was coming from and you did not care. You had been there to do a work.”

Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi also spent lots of yrs enjoying in Russia for Kalmanovich and spoke of magnificent living ailments and the lavish journeys he would deliver.

“Everything pretty much was initial-class,” Fowl after reported. “We’re being at the very best accommodations. We go to Paris. We’re in, like, the bomb resort in Paris.”

That cure at Ekaterinburg continues.

“My knowledge in Russia has been astounding, to be honest,” stated Breanna Stewart, who has performed for Ekaterinburg since 2020. “They make sure they choose care of the gamers by chartering in all places.”

But Milton-Jones also remembers how distinct life was 20 yrs ago, when cellphones and the online ended up rather new.

“Back in the working day, you experienced to go to the cigarette shop and obtain the scratch-off playing cards and you’d sort that range in the cellular phone and it claims you have 25 minutes to talk,” she stated. “We didn’t have the well known applications these days on your phone. It was a struggle”

Connecticut Solar guard Natisha Hiedeman, who used this past period in Russia prior to returning to property in March, reported her everyday routine consisted of going to the fitness center and returning house. The only other location she went was the grocery shop.

“It’s just difficult going out when you can’t communicate. Every little thing is 10 periods tougher,” she explained. “I stayed in the residence. I was privileged that I had my puppy out there, (to) do things with him.”

Hiedeman said currently being in Russia felt more isolating than playing in Israel.

“In Israel, absolutely everyone was 20 minutes aside and there were being a entire bunch of Americans, so it was simpler,” she said. “Russia is a substantial country, and to be near any other staff you had to get on a aircraft and journey.”

Hiedeman stayed related with her spouse and children via engineering irrespective of the time dissimilarities.

“I will not know how the outdated cats employed to do it without the need of FaceTime,” she reported, laughing.

Brianna Turner, a teammate of Griner with the Phoenix Mercury, also performed in Russia in 2020-21. She competed for Nika Syktyvkar, a team based mostly in Russia’s distant European north.

Turner explained Syktyvkar didn’t have a buying shopping mall or quite a few areas to go, but it had a McDonald’s — despite the fact that she did not go there frequently.

She often stayed at home and streamed flicks and shows on her computer system. When her staff went on the highway, she’d consider to invest some time in the mall in people areas.

“There wasn’t much to do outside the house of basketball,” she explained.

“My metropolis was really chilly. When I to start with got there, the sun set at 3,” reported Turner, who is from South Bend, Indiana. “The weather was a massive adjustment. It was even colder. Wake up, and it would be detrimental 20 numerous days in a row. It was cold each individual single working day.”

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