For elite WNBA athletes, spending the off-season playing in Russia can mean earning more money than they can earn at home, sometimes even two or three times more.
But those who have done so describe the loneliness of being away from family, friends, fighting an unknown language, culture, living in a cold, cold place for a few hours in the winter.
Britney Greene is one of the players who has traveled to Russia in recent years to earn extra money. For a double Olympian, however, it has turned into a lasting nightmare.
Arriving at Moscow airport in mid-February, he was arrested by police after they reportedly found cannabis bullets in his luggage, which allegedly contained hemp oil. Still in prison, he is awaiting trial next month on charges that could lead to up to 10 years in prison.
His arrest came amid heightened political tensions over Ukraine.
Half a dozen American players contacted by The Associated Press shared their experiences playing in Russia. Or that no one has found themselves in the same situation as Grayner, they have described difficulties such as isolation and boredom other than basketball.
“It was not easy to play there, because the way of life is very different from what you live in other parts of Europe and America,” said Delisha Milton-Jones, one of the first robbed American players to play in Russia. In the early 2000s.
“Extremes of the weather. “It was dark at 5 in the evening and I sometimes had to put on my big jacket to keep warm because it was minus -40 degrees outside,” said Milton-Jones, who played for UMKC Ekaterinburg on the same team as Greiner. .
The former Florida all-American, the two-time WNBA champion with all WNBA stars և Los Angeles Sparks, said that the decision to play in Russia was just “business”.
In the early 2000s, the best WNBA players could earn around $ 125,000 a year as part of a marketing deal with the league. Today the salary of elite players is about 500 thousand dollars. Playing in Russia, these players can earn from 1 to 1.5 million dollars.
The players say that the Russian teams try to make themselves as comfortable as possible, including sometimes providing drivers and translators. Clubs also give players extra weekends knowing they will travel longer to the US if they go home.
The apartments provided by the teams are comparable to what players are accustomed to in the WNBA, including Western-style kitchens and laundry, as well as access to streaming services and video calls.
Milton-Jones, 47, has played in other European leagues, but said that Russia paid the most at that time. And no one has surpassed UMKC Ekaterinburg, which continues to be an attractive place for players.
Milton-Jones helped the club win its first Euroleague title. Team owner Shabtay Kalmanovich has changed the standard of living for WNBA players in Russia, before being shot dead in Moscow in 2009.
“We have rented. He did everything for five stars, “said Milton-Jones at a basketball training camp in the United States earlier this month. “It simply came to our notice then. He would send us to France on the weekends, giving us thousands of dollars to shop on a private jet. Regardless of the club, you did not know where the money came from, you do not care. “You were there to do business.”
Sue Bourd և Diana Tauras has also spent many years in Russia playing for Kalmanovich, talking about the luxurious living conditions, the luxurious travels she will provide.
“Everything was literally first class,” Burd once said. “We stay in the best hotels. We are going to Paris. We are like in a bomb hotel in Paris. ”
This treatment continues in Yekaterinburg.
“My experience in Russia has been amazing, to be honest,” said Brianna Stewart, who has been playing in Yekaterinburg since 2020. “They take care of the players, hiring them everywhere.”
But Milton-Jones also remembers how different life was 20 years ago, when cell phones and the Internet were relatively new.
“In the past, you had to go to a cigarette shop, buy zero cards, enter that number in your phone, write that you have 25 minutes to talk,” he said. Have the popular apps of your day on your phone. It was a struggle. “
Connecticut Sun guard Natisha Hideman, who spent last season in Russia before returning home in March, says her daily routine consists of going to the gym and returning home. The only other place he went was to the grocery store.
“It’s just hard to get out when you can’t communicate. “Everything is 10 times more difficult,” he said. “I stayed at home. I was lucky to have my dog outside to do something with him. ”
Hidemann said being in Russia felt more isolated than playing in Israel.
“Everyone in Israel was 20 minutes apart, there was a whole bunch of Americans, so it was easier,” he said. “Russia is a huge country, to be with any other team you have to get on a plane and travel. »:
Hidemann remained connected to his family through technology, despite time differences.
“I do not know how old cats did it without FaceTime,” he said with a laugh.
Greene’s teammate with Pyunik Mercury also played Briana Turner in Russia in 2020-21. He competed for the Nika Siktivkar team based in the far European north of Russia.
Turner said Syktyvkar did not have a mall or many places to go, but had a McDonald’s that he did not go to often.
He often stayed at home, broadcasting movies and programs on his computer. As his team traveled, he tried to spend some time in the mall.
“There was not much to do outside of basketball,” he said.
“My city was very cold. “When I first got there, my mother came in at 3 o’clock,” said Turner, of South Bend, Indiana. “It simply came to our notice then. It was even colder. Wake up, և in 20 days it will be negative. Line. “Every day was cold.”