As the W.N.B.A. star Jonquel Jones looked ahead to the off-season this year, she couldn’t help but think about her friend Brittney Griner, who has been detained in Russia since February after customs officials arrested her at an airport near Moscow.
“Her not being with us, her not being with her team and the W.N.B.A., her family not being able to see her,” Jones said. “Just her being over there and understanding that it could have easily been somebody else on our team and just kind of feeling the weight of that.
“When you’re so close to that person it’s a little bit different.”
Griner, like Jones, had been in Russia during the W.N.B.A. off-season to supplement her relatively modest salary by playing for some of the highest-paying women’s basketball teams in the world. But for the upcoming off-season, Jones, 28, signed with a Turkish team instead.
“What would make me feel comfortable about going back to Russia?” Jones said. “B.G. being home, first and foremost. U.S.A. and Russia relations being better. The war in Ukraine being over with.”
Playing overseas remains extremely popular for W.N.B.A. players seeking to earn more money or gain more pro experience, but several agents and players told The New York Times that, because of Griner’s ordeal and the war, they did not know of anyone who would be playing in Russia this off-season. The W.N.B.A. said it did not have a complete list of players going abroad because its playoffs are underway.
The coronavirus pandemic had already winnowed overseas opportunities for W.N.B.A. players in virus-conscious countries like China and South Korea before the war in Ukraine and Griner’s detention made Russia essentially off limits, too. Players are still opting to go places like Turkey, Israel, Spain, Italy and France.