Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner has been arrested in Moscow and faces drug trafficking charges after being found with vape cartridges in his hand luggage.
Russia’s Federal Customs Service said it detained a “professional basketball player, member of the American National Basketball Association, two-time Olympic basketball champion in the American team”, identified as Griner by the Russian news agency TASS.
“Brittney Griner has the full support of the WNBA and our top priority is her quick and safe return to the United States,” a WNBA spokesperson said in a statement to USA TODAY Sports on Saturday.
Griner, a seven-time WNBA All-Star and two-time Olympic gold medalist, spent nine seasons in the WNBA and led the league in blocks in eight of those years. She has been playing for UMMC Yekaterinburg in Russia since 2015.
Mercury and USA Basketball said they are monitoring the situation with Griner, with the Mercury adding that “their primary concern is his safety, his physical and mental health and his safe return home.”
Officials say Griner was carrying vaping gear with cannabis oil cartridges and faces up to 10 years in prison.
“While a US citizen was passing through the Green Channel at Sheremetyevo Airport arriving from New York, a working dog from the Sheremetyevo Customs Canine Department detected the possible presence of narcotic substances in the accompanying baggage. “, the Russian Federal Customs Service said in a statement. declaration. “Customs inspection of the carry-on baggage carried by the U.S. citizen confirmed the presence of vapes with a specific-smelling liquid, and an expert determined that the liquid was cannabis oil (hash oil), which is a narcotic substance.”
Many female professional basketball players decide to play in Russia during the WNBA offseason to have a chance to compete and take advantage of the high salaries offered by foreign teams. Griner earned up to $1.5 million a year in Russia, up from a base salary of $215,000 last season for the Mercury.
Griner’s detention also comes against the backdrop of Russia’s invasion of neighboring Ukraine and growing diplomatic tension between the United States and Russia.