Basketball star Brittney Griner will be releasing a new memoir next year about her 10-month detention in a Russian prison. The release of this book will coincide with the 10th anniversary of her first memoir In My Skin: My Life On and Off the Basketball Court. As the first memoir highlights the moments leading up to her newfound stardom, the second memoir will focus on the transition of becoming an unexpected political prisoner and activist.
“Readers will hear my story and understand why I’m so thankful for the outpouring of support from people across the world,” Brittney said in a press release about the memoir. “By writing this book, I also hope to raise awareness surrounding other Americans wrongfully detained abroad such as Paul Whelan, Evan Gershkovich, Emad Shargi, Airan Berry, Shahab Dalili, Luke Denman, Eyvin Hernandez, Majd Kamalmaz, Jerrel Kenemore, Kai Li, Siamak Namazi, Austin Tice, Mark Swidan and Morad Tahbaz.”
Alfred A. Knopf, a Penguin Random House imprint, is the publisher behind the untitled memoir. The news was announced amid the WNBA draft where University of South Carolina’s Aliyah Boston was the No. 1 pick and more than a week after Brittney’s former Baylor University coach Kim Mulkey won her first championship with the Louisiana State University women’s basketball team.
While Brittney spends 2023 revving up on the court, her memoir will sure make a splash when it comes out in spring 2024 as we get rare insight into her experience as a Black gay female athlete navigating various politics in order to win back her freedom.
Pay inequity, cannabis overregulation lead to arrest
Brittney, the No. 1 WNBA draft pick in 2013, was arrested in Russia in February 2022 over charges of carrying cannabis cartridges in her luggage as she tried to fly back to the U.S. after finishing a season playing with the Russian team UMMC Ekaterinburg. She played overseas, like a lot of her WNBA colleagues from Candace Parker to Maya Moore, because players’ salaries average $117,500 to $215,000, according to Spotrac.
On the list, Brittney’s WNBA base salary ranks at $165,100 this year as the No. 35 top paid player, a drop in standing due to her imprisonment. The No. 35 NBA player is Deandre Ayton of the Phoenix Suns, the same city as Brittney, and ESPN reports he is earning almost $31 million this season. Though WNBA salaries increased after fans voiced concern over the reason why Brittney was playing overseas, WNBA salaries are still nowhere near NBA salaries.
Her arrest also became controversial in the court of public opinion as she brought an illegal drug into Russia, where cannabis possession translated into a nine-year prison sentence. Though she helped the country elevate its basketball game, none of that mattered amid President Vladimir Putin’s administration waging a war with neighboring Ukraine.
Russia launched its first attack against the former Soviet Union republic of Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022. Brittney was arrested the week before on Feb. 17.
She became a political prisoner as the Biden administration went back and forth on negotiations to bring Brittney, known as BG by her friends and fans, back to the U.S. safe and sound. She came home last December after the U.S. traded her with Russia for an infamous arms dealer.
What she entails in her post-imprisonment memoir will become media fodder with Oprah Winfrey-level interviews and a constant replay of excerpts. Brittney co-wrote her memoir in 2014 with Sue Hovey, a former vice president and executive editor at ESPN, a year after joining the WNBA.
The first memoir, published by HarperCollins, detailed her upbringing in Texas, particularly around growing into her sexuality. She was raised by a father, who worked in law enforcement and lived by the law at home. Her mother seemed supportive but couldn’t protect Brittney from her father’s ignorance about how she was developing.
Living under her father’s strict roof made playing basketball at Baylor, a private Baptist university, just as difficult after she left home. She writes about her experiences of dealing with her father and college coach in the book:
“I was finally coming into my own as an adult, but before I could step forward and be exactly the person I wanted to be in public, before I could say and do the things I wanted to do, on my own terms, I had to go through some serious growing pains with the two main authority figures in my life: my dad, Raymond Griner, and my coach, Kim Mulkey.
“I love and respect them both, more than they probably know. But if I had to pick just one word to describe my relationship with each of them? Complicated. All caps COMPLICATED.”
Tension with father, coach over sexuality
Kim was the Baylor coach for 21 years. In her book, Brittney writes about how their relationship deteriorated because she felt her coach showed two faces — one for the public, one for private.
“She would call me into her office to tell me I had done something wrong — like when someone saw me kissing my girlfriend at the movies — but then she would shift the burden away from herself, trying to imply she was just the messenger and this wasn’t how she personally felt. Those conversations caused me a lot of confusion, a lot of pain.”
Amid this year’s March Madness, the championship-winning coach told ESPN she had not talked to her former player since Brittney returned from Russia. To be fair, Kim was busy coaching her team to its first national title while Brittney had just re-signed with the Phoenix Mercury.
Brittney says she had “a lot of mixed emotions” about her time at Baylor, which is located in Waco, Texas. Though she was close to home and her talent was supported on campus, the university had a policy against same-sex romantic relationships, an issue she nor her family were aware of before her enrollment.
Attending a religious school against her sexual identity ties into her time in high school, where she realized she liked girls. At home, she says her father had his own similar policy.
“There was a bit of a cold war going on between us, but I knew our relationship would become red hot if he discovered the truth about my sexuality,” she writes. “I knew if he found out, the walls would come crashing down around me. My dad has always had a very narrow view of the world, perceiving anything ‘different’ as a threat.”
Though she had a simple coming-out discussion with her mother, Brittney says she was warned to not tell her father. She says her father would say passive-aggressive statements like wondering how Kim and Baylor would react to her “being so friendly with gays.”
The relationship Brittney had with these two authoritative figures really impacted how she wanted to live in the world as a gay woman. Her intersectionality also came up with her arrest. Russia is considered to have harsh laws against same-sex relationships. We should see correlations between how she was treated in the U.S. for her identity and how she was treated in Russia as an athlete-turned-prisoner.
It begs the question how her relationship with her father has changed with her high-profile arrest since part of her identity is growing up as a daughter of a police officer. She even once had the same career ambitions to follow in law enforcement.
Also, being Black (and tattooed) as a prisoner in a country that is less than 1% Black added fuel to the fire. When Brittney returned home, she was sporting a short cropped hairdo because she had to sever her trademark locs due to the freezing temperatures in Russia. Her upcoming memoir may go in depth on her feelings about her identity being affected by the erasure of her African hairstyle.
Fame & basketball
Since she was 23 at the time of the first memoir’s release, Brittney was still young enough to dedicate the majority of the book on her coming of age in Houston.
Like many teenagers, Brittney suffered from depression, not quite understanding the toll. She writes about how she was bullied for being tall and wanting to dress in clothes considered appropriate for boys.
“They were constantly making fun of how I looked and dressed, how I walked and talked,” she writes. “I’m not sure I can express exactly how I felt in those moments, because I usually went numb. When you’re on the receiving end of insults every day, they chip away at your self-esteem.”
With her 6’8 height, Brittney started playing basketball in high school, which is almost considered a late bloomer for anyone serious about pursuing the sport seriously in college and beyond.
“The growing confidence I felt off the court carried over to basketball. And the more I improved as a player, the better I felt about the person I was becoming,” she writes. “It all just fed on itself. After fighting and struggling my way through middle school, I now had a new sense of purpose.”
As she became a basketball megastar at Baylor, her sexuality and gender were questioned with higher intensity at the university.
“We could acknowledge, in a general way, that people were questioning my gender, calling me a freak, a man, a female impostor. And yet I couldn’t talk about being gay,” she writes. “Most of the time, I was on autopilot with the media, because I couldn’t really show who I was of the often portrayed—just a big, fun-loving, goofy kid—felt like a two-dimensional version of the real me.”
In the book, Brittney writes about her time playing on the Zhejiang Chouzhou Golden Bulls in China while on break from playing on the Phoenix Mercury, the team she signed with in 2013. She describes how normal it is for WNBA players to play overseas to earn close to equivalent salaries of NBA players. Though she is a two-time Olympic gold medalist for Team USA, she still had to play in Russia, which ultimately led to her arrest.
Regardless of the controversy around her arrest and release, readers may be interested in her captivity in a strict foreign prison as a gay Black female celebrity and how that experience led to the evolution of her speaking up for Americans also imprisoned under trumped-up charges abroad.