ABOVE PHOTO: Cherelle Griner, left, and Brittney Griner on stage at the 54th NAACP Image Awards on Saturday, Feb. 25, 2023, at the Civic Auditorium in Pasadena, Calif. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)
By Hillel Italie
NEW YORK — Saying she is ready to share the “unfathomable” experience of being arrested and incarcerated in Russia, basketball star Brittney Griner is working on a memoir that is scheduled for spring 2024.
Griner was arrested last year at the airport in Moscow on drug-related charges and detained for nearly 10 months, much of that time in prison. Her plight unfolded at the same time Russia invaded Ukraine and further heightened tensions between Russia and the U.S., ending only after she was freed in exchange for the notorious Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.
A WNBA All-Star with the Phoenix Mercury, Griner had flown to Moscow in February 2022 to rejoin UMMC Ekaterinburg, a Russian women’s team she has played for in the off-season since 2014.
“That day (in February) was the beginning of an unfathomable period in my life which only now am I ready to share,” Griner said in a statement released Tuesday by Alfred A. Knopf.
“The primary reason I traveled back to Russia for work that day was because I wanted to make my wife, family, and teammates proud. After an incredibly challenging 10 months in detainment, I am grateful to have been rescued and to be home. Readers will hear my story and understand why I’m so thankful for the outpouring of support from people across the world.”
Griner added that she also hoped her book would raise awareness of other Americans detained overseas, including Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, arrested in Russia last month and accused of espionage; businessman Kai Li, serving a 10-year sentence in China on charges of revealing state secrets to the FBI; and Paul Whelan, a corporate security executive imprisoned in Russia on spying charges. Around the time Griner was released, Whelan criticized the U.S. government for not doing enough to help him.
Russia has been a popular playing destination for top WNBA athletes in the offseason, with some earning salaries over $1 million — nearly quadruple what they can make as a base WNBA salary. Despite pleading guilty to possessing canisters with cannabis oil, a result of what she said was hasty packing, Griner still faced trial under Russian law.
Griner’s memoir is currently untitled and will eventually be published in a young adult edition. Financial terms were not disclosed.
In Tuesday’s press statement, Knopf said that the book would be “intimate and moving” and that Griner would disclose “in vivid detail her harrowing experience of her wrongful detainment (as classified by the State Department) and the difficulty of navigating the byzantine Russian legal system in a language she did not speak.”
“Griner also describes her stark and surreal time living in a foreign prison and the terrifying aspects of day-to-day life in a women’s penal colony,” the announcement reads. “At the heart of the book, Griner highlights the personal turmoil she experienced during the near ten-month ordeal and the resilience that carried her through to the day of her return to the United States last December.”
Griner, 32, is a 6-foot-9 two-time Olympic gold medalist, three-time All-American at Baylor University, a prominent advocate for pay equity for women athletes and the first openly gay athlete to reach an endorsement deal with Nike. She is the author of one previous book, “In My Skin: My Life On and Off the Basketball Court,” published in 2014.
In February, she re-signed with the Mercury and will play in its upcoming season, which runs from May through September.
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