Brittney Griner can’t bring herself to think about basketball right now.
The WNBA superstar and two-time Olympic gold medalist has not touched a basketball in the eight months she’s spent wrongfully detained in Russia. Though she has access to a hoop at the prison where she’s been held, Griner declined her attorneys’ offer to bring her a basketball, suggesting that it’s “too painful” for her to play the sport she loves under such dire circumstances.
“She said, ‘Maybe if I’m here longer, but not now,'” Maria Blagovolina, one of Griner’s lawyers, told ESPN’s TJ Quinn.
Since February, when she was arrested after customs agents at a Moscow airport found vape cartridges containing hashish oil in her luggage, Griner has found herself navigating an inconsistent Russian legal system known to be hostile towards Americans. Her pre-trial detention was extended several times, and once she finally had her day in court, Griner came up against “a kangaroo court” less interested in justice than in bringing the state’s “predetermined” outcome to fruition, sources told Insider ahead of the trail.
Though she pleaded guilty in an effort to secure leniency, the eight-time WNBA All-Star was sentenced to a near-maximum nine years at a Russian penal colony. She and her lawyers almost immediately appealed the decision, though legal experts told Insider the move is unlikely to secure her freedom.
Still, Griner is almost singularly focused on the upcoming hearing that will determine her fate, Quinn reports. She’s not in a good headspace, her wife has said in recent interviews, and she understands that she’s unlikely to leave Russia before the November 8 midterm elections back home in the United States.
Her most promising pathway out of foreign custody is a prisoner exchange between the White House and the Kremlin. Though the US has reportedly offered to swap notorious Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout to secure the freedom of Griner and fellow American Paul Whelan, American government officials have maintained that they have yet to receive a serious counteroffer out of Moscow.
Griner’s next hearing is scheduled for October 25, and should the courts uphold their initial decision, the 32-year-old will likely spend time in one of Russia’s infamous penal colonies.