Griner is one of the world's top basketball players. She won the 2014 W.N.B.A. title with the Phoenix Mercury and has won two Olympic gold medals with the United States women's national basketball team. During W.N.B.A. off-seasons, she continued to play for her Russian team, UMMC Yekaterinburg, for several years.

Before the Ukraine crisis, many American female basketball players played for high-paying Russian teams. After the 2021 W.N.B.A. season, more than a dozen players played in Russia and Ukraine. (A W.N.B.A. spokeswoman claimed everyone but Griner had departed Russia and Ukraine by March 5 with the fighting started.)

Since the 2022 season concluded in September, W.N.B.A. players have opted to play for teams in Turkey, Spain, and other countries rather than in Russia. Dozens of American male basketball players, including some with NBA experience, continue to opt to play in Russia.

The monetary incentives are persuasive. W.N.B.A. players earn a small fraction of what their N.B.A. counterparts do. In 2022, the maximum salary for W.N.B.A. players was $228,094, whereas the highest-paid N.B.A. players earned tens of millions of dollars.

International women's teams, which typically receive more government and corporate financial support than those in the W.N.B.A., can sometimes pay more than $1 million per season.

In March, Griner's incarceration was first made public. While her followers immediately rallied to her defence on social media, her family and friends initially remained silent out of concern that doing so would politicise the case.

In May, the State Department claimed Griner was "wrongfully detained" and that hostage officials would attempt to free her. After the announcement, Griner's family, friends, and teammates passionately urged the Biden administration to liberate her.

Cherelle Griner publicly criticised Biden for her wife's protracted confinement before Griner's trial in July. Cherelle Griner told The New York Times that she would "stay worried and outspoken" until her wife returned home after speaking to Biden and Harris the day before Brittney Griner pled guilty.