Brittney Griner has been detained in Russia since customs agents at Moscow's Sheremetyevo International Airport claimed to have found vapes containing hashish oil in the WNBA superstar's luggage.
- Three months after the two-time Olympic gold medalist was taken into Russian custody, the US government designated her as wrongfully detained and began working to secure her freedom.
- Russia has since brought the eight-time WNBA All-Star to trial, and if she finds herself among the 99% of defendants in Russia who are convicted, she could face up to 10 years in Russian prison.
- Here's a recap of everything that's happened in the six months since Griner arrived in Russia:
Brittney Griner is one of the most talented basketball players of her generation.
A two-time Olympic gold medalist with Team USA, Griner is best known as a standout for the Baylor Bears and, after college, the WNBA's Phoenix Mercury.
She's also known for her incredible dunking ability — a rarity among women's basketball stars.
In addition to dominating the domestic league, Griner has found great success competing overseas during the WNBA off-season to supplement her income.
Each year since 2014 — just her second out of college — Griner has headed to Russia to compete for European powerhouse UMMC Ekaterinburg.
The 2021-22 WNBA off-season was no exception; Griner suited up for the six-time EuroLeague champions almost immediately after her Phoenix Mercury lost in the WNBA Finals last fall.
Her wife, Cherelle, later recalled that their final conversation before Griner's departure was about how she "didn't want to go back" to the Ural city.
February 17: Midway through her season with UMMC Ekaterinburg, Griner flew back into Moscow after a brief return to the United States.
After landing, Griner worked her way through airport security. After placing her luggage on a conveyor belt for an X-Ray scan, she was pulled aside by Russian customs agents.
A video released out of Russia shows an airport employee rifling through an open suitcase, presumably belonging to Griner, as the star looks on.
Months later, Griner testified that she was forced to sign documents written in Russian, which she tried to decipher using Google Translate on her cell phone. She was never read her rights.
Cherelle later revealed that she learned via text message that Brittney was taken into a room for further questioning. Eventually, officials took her phone and brought her into custody.
March 5: Only after Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24 — several weeks after Griner was first detained — did the general public learn of her arrest on charges of large-scale transportation of drugs.
Little by little, fans, loved ones, and politicians began to speak out about Griner's detainment.
One congressman — Rep. Colin Allred of Griner's native Texas — was quick to call the situation "extremely concerning."
But for the most part, the powers that be were noticeably quiet about Griner.
The relative silence from those closest to Griner was part of a "say less and push more privately behind the scenes" strategy meant to get her home as quickly as possible, WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert told Insider in March.
By then, sources had confirmed that Griner was "OK" even though courts had denied her team's appeal for house arrest.
Russian state media reported that Griner had two English-speaking cellmates and that her only complaint was that her bed was too small to fit her 6-foot-9 frame.
Right around then, the American public caught their first glimpses of Griner since she was detained.
—Mike Eckel (@Mike_Eckel) March 17, 2022
And a few days after that — a full month after she was first taken into custody — a US embassy official received access to the WNBA star.
Meanwhile, Griner's USA Basketball teammates, who convened in Minnesota for a camp, told Insider they were "feeling her absence" in practice and in quiet moments.
And as the 2022 WNBA season drew nearer, the entire Phoenix community — and the Mercury, in particular — was missing the star.
By early May, the Biden administration broke its silence on Griner's plight; the US government officially classified her as "wrongfully detained."
An expert who has navigated several hostage situations told Insider that the move sent a "strong signal that the US government does not believe that there is a legitimate case against her."
The change in designation came just days after Russia freed ex-Marine Trevor Reed in a prisoner swap, on April 27 — another encouraging sign that the Kremlin might negotiate for Griner, too.
And the Biden administration's shift in strategy allowed those closest to Griner to speak more freely about her situation.
Her wife participated in a series of TV interviews — and Griner managed to send her flowers from prison ahead of the emotionally draining day.
And her agent — Wasserman's Lindsay Kagawa-Colas — called on the US government to do "whatever it takes" to bring Griner home.
In mid-May, Russia extended Griner's detention by a month.
And sources told Insider they were concerned Griner could spend months, even years, in custody without her case going to trial.
As many Americans began to publicly question why the US government would work towards Griner's release, one expert warned against taking Russia's word at face value, as the country "does not have rule of law."
In mid-June, the Russian government once again extended Griner's detention without scheduling her trial.
Given her several appearances in court, despite an apparent lack of progress in her case, some informed observers in the States expressed concern that the Russians were merely parading Griner for the cameras.
Later in the month, Griner's long-awaited phone call with her wife was bungled by a State Department "logistical error."
Griner expressed terror in letters to her wife, who hoped to truly gauge how the star was doing by hearing her voice.
Finally, after more than four months in Russian custody, Griner was told her trial would start at the beginning of July.
But given Russia's greater than 99% conviction rate, experts told Insider they suspected Griner's hearings would be a "show trial" with a "predetermined" outcome.
Meanwhile, on the eve of Griner's trial, rumblings of a potential prisoner exchange involving the eight-time WNBA All-Star began to surface.
Russian news sources reported as early as May that Griner could be involved in a swap for notorious Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.
But in July, sources on the US side began to discuss trading Bout — who had served roughly half of a 25-year sentence — for both Griner and fellow detained American Paul Whelan.
Experts in the space — including Bout's sentencing judge — analyzed the potential deal's intricacies and potential repercussions.
On July 4, just after her trial began, Griner penned a letter to President Joe Biden in an appeal to secure her freedom.
The note seemingly pushed Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris to finally speak with Cherelle.
Biden told Cherelle he was writing a letter back to Griner, an update she took as reassurance that the president had "not forgotten her."
On July 7, a day after her wife's call with the president, Griner pleaded guilty to the charges brought against her.
But the guilty plea may very well have been a strategic move from Griner and her defense team, sources explained to Insider.
In subsequent court appearances, it became clear that Griner's camp was appealing to the judge in hopes to receive a lenient sentence.
Griner testified that she unintentionally brought vape cartridges with her to Russia; she was packing quickly and did not realize she left the drugs in her bag.
And the cannabis, her defense team insisted, was prescribed by an Arizona doctor to treat Griner's basketball-related joint pain.
Still, experts who spoke with Insider were skeptical Russia would show the American star any mercy.
A prisoner swap, they said, was still the Olympian's most likely path home.
And the Biden administration finally seemed to acknowledge that likelihood as well, as John Kirby — the Coordinator for Strategic Communications at the National Security Council — said the White House was interested in "government-to-government contact" with Russia regarding Griner's release.
Two weeks later, CNN broke the news that the US had offered Russia the aforementioned prisoner exchange — Bout for Griner and Whelan — sometime in June.
But as July turned to August, Russia made what Kirby called a "bad faith" counteroffer involving a convicted murderer who was tried, sentenced, and imprisoned in Germany.
And as the Kremlin fired back that "loudspeaker diplomacy" wouldn't succeed in bringing the detained Americans home, it appeared the US and Russia were still quite far from agreeing to a deal.
Throughout the State Department's behind-the-scenes dealings, Griner's support back home in the States had only grown louder.
Fans have rallied for Griner's return.
And at the ESPY Awards, stars like Stephen Curry, Megan Rapinoe, Skylar Diggins-Smith, and Nneka Ogwumike used the platform to bring attention to Griner's case.
Rapinoe also wore Griner's initials on her lapel while accepting the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
All 22 WNBA All-Stars wore Griner's name and number on their jerseys during the second half of the 2022 All-Star Game.
While sitting in a jail cell halfway across the globe, Griner was able to see a photo of the players honoring her at the All-Star Game.
Even LeBron James questioned why the government hadn't acted faster on Griner's behalf.
And Reed, the American detainee freed from Russia in April, said the Biden administration should be doing more.
There was even a mural of Griner and other American hostages painted on a wall in Washington, DC.
All the while, Griner's trial was drawing to a close outside of Moscow.
And while the superstar was "nervous" in the days before she was expected to receive a verdict, she said via her legal team that she "really appreciates all the support she's getting."
Griner and her defense lawyers continued to express optimism that the judge would grant her leniency, even as she faced up to 10 years in prison.
Read the original article on Insider