WNBA players say life in Russia was lucrative but lonely


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For the elite athletes in the WNBA, expending the offseason actively playing in Russia can indicate earning more dollars than they can make back again household — occasionally even two or three moments as substantially.

But those who have done that also explain the loneliness of currently being away from loved ones and good friends, of having difficulties with an unfamiliar language and lifestyle, and of living in a position with only a few hours of sunlight in the wintertime and temperatures perfectly beneath freezing.

Brittney Griner is a person of all those gamers who went to Russia in new a long time to make added revenue. For the two-time Olympian, nevertheless, it has turned into a prolonged nightmare.

Due to the fact arriving at a Moscow airport in mid-February, she has been detained by law enforcement just after they reported getting vape cartridges allegedly containing cannabis oil in her luggage. Even now in jail, she is awaiting demo up coming thirty day period on expenses that could carry up to 10 a long time in jail.

Her arrest came at a time of heightened political tensions about Ukraine. Given that then, Russia has invaded Ukraine and remains at war.

A fifty percent-dozen American gamers contacted by The Associated Press shared their ordeals on enjoying in Russia. While none located by themselves in the same problem as Griner, they described issues such as isolation and boredom, apart from basketball.

“Playing there was not uncomplicated for the reason that the way of life and the way of living is a great deal diverse than what you expertise in other areas in Europe and The usa,” mentioned DeLisha Milton-Jones, just one of the initial marquee American gamers to engage in in Russia in the early 2000s.

“The extremes of the climate — it is pitch black darkish at 5 p.m. I had to dress in my huge jacket warming up from time to time considering that it was minus-40 degrees exterior,” claimed Milton-Jones, who performed for UMKC Ekaterinburg — the exact same crew as Griner.

The former All-American at Florida, WNBA All-Star and two-time WNBA champion with the Los Angeles Sparks said the determination to enjoy in Russia was simply a “business one.”

In the early 2000s, leading WNBA players could earn about $125,000 a year as component of a advertising and marketing deal with the league. These days, the salary for elite gamers is about $500,000. By actively playing in Russia, those people players can get paid an additional $1 million to $1.5 million.

Players say the Russian teams test to make them as comfy as achievable, which includes often offering drivers and translators. The clubs also give gamers additional days off for the duration of breaks, realizing they have lengthier travel back to the U.S., if they go property.

Apartments provided by the teams are comparable with what the gamers are accustomed to in the WNBA, which include Western-model kitchens and laundry amenities, and they also have access to streaming companies and movie phone calls.

Milton-Jones, 47, performed in other European leagues but claimed Russia paid out the most at the time. And none topped UMKC Ekaterinburg, which carries on to be an eye-catching location for players.

Milton-Jones assisted the club acquire its initial EuroLeague title. The team’s operator, Shabtai Kalmanovich, changed the regular of shell out and residing for WNBA players in Russia ahead of he was shot and killed in Moscow in 2009.

“We chartered. Did every little thing 5-star,” Milton-Jones said at Usa Basketball coaching camp before this thirty day period. “He would just spoil us. He’d ship us to France for a weekend and give us countless numbers of pounds to go buying on a non-public aircraft. No subject the club, you did not know the place the money was coming from and you did not treatment. You have been there to do a work.”

Sue Hen and Diana Taurasi also put in many years taking part in in Russia for Kalmanovich and spoke of high-class residing conditions and the lavish excursions he would present.

“Every thing basically was initial-course,” Bird as soon as stated. “We’re keeping at the ideal resorts. We go to Paris. We’re in, like, the bomb lodge in Paris.”

That cure at Ekaterinburg continues.

“My expertise in Russia has been amazing, to be truthful,” reported Breanna Stewart, who has played for Ekaterinburg considering the fact that 2020. “They make positive they acquire treatment of the players by chartering all over the place.”

But Milton-Jones also remembers how various everyday living was 20 decades ago, when cellphones and the web ended up reasonably new.

“Back in the working day, you experienced to go to the cigarette store and invest in the scratch-off playing cards and you would form that amount in the cell phone and it claims you have 25 minutes to speak,” she claimed. “We did not have the popular apps nowadays on your mobile phone. It was a struggle”

Connecticut Sunlight guard Natisha Hiedeman, who put in this previous year in Russia ahead of returning to residence in March, stated her everyday program consisted of likely to the fitness center and returning residence. The only other place she went was the grocery keep.

“It’s just challenging likely out when you just cannot connect. All the things is 10 occasions more difficult,” she reported. “I stayed in the home. I was privileged that I experienced my pet out there, (to) do things with him.”

Hiedeman explained being in Russia felt far more isolating than actively playing in Israel.

“In Israel, anyone was 20 minutes apart and there had been a total bunch of People in america, so it was easier,” she said. “Russia is a huge nation, and to be in close proximity to any other staff you experienced to get on a plane and vacation.”

Hiedeman stayed connected with her household via technologies even with the time dissimilarities.

“I don’t know how the old cats employed to do it with out FaceTime,” she explained, laughing.

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

Turner said Syktyvkar did not have a purchasing mall or many sites to go, but it experienced a McDonald’s — despite the fact that she did not go there usually.

She typically stayed at household and streamed motion pictures and shows on her pc. When her workforce went on the highway, she’d check out to spend some time in the mall in people destinations.

“There wasn’t significantly to do outside of basketball,” she explained.

“My town was very cold. When I to start with received there, the sun established at 3,” stated Turner, who is from South Bend, Indiana. “The weather was a significant adjustment. It was even colder. Wake up, and it would be adverse 20 numerous times in a row. It was cold just about every single working day.”

By analia