Phoenix Mercury`s Brittney Griner is thought to be the best thing that happened to the WNBA since … well, since nobody. Griner is a 6’8″ (208 cm) center with a good degree of athleticism that can run the floor and dominate anyone under the paint. What she can do on the court is unprecedented. Oh, and she can dunk the basketball like no woman could ever do before. Arguably, not even Lebron James had such an impact to his league when drafted.
With the 2013 WNBA draft considered to be the best in the league`s history, and with Griner as it`s no.1 pick along with fellow top three draftees Elena Delle-Donne and Skylar Diggins (and don`t underestimate some other potentially young stars), interest started to surround women`s basketball not only in US, but also throughout the world. And for good reason! How`s this for a fact: after a single professional WNBA game, Griner was already tied for the most career dunks in the league`s history!
At Nimitz High School, in Houston, “the great H” as she names it, Griner was already starting to show her strong play and insane dunking abilities, beginning to realize that she won`t be the professional skateboarder she dreamed to be. But High School was not the first place where Brittney encountered rejection and insult. Yes, Griner`s story is not only sports-related as it should be. I`m guessing this is the first and only time gossip and sexuality find their way on our website, but sometimes a sports story must embrace the hero`s character and personal struggles that helped him/her achieve greatness. Rarely is this truly needed … we think that it`s needed now.
A tall girl with deep voice, guy-like hobbies, wearing guy-like clothes (like shirts and bow-ties), she was prone to be word-bullied by her classmates. “You`re a man”. “Look at her flat chest”. She tried to fit in, but the fight was lost from the beginning. At times, when her close ones thought she was sleeping or just minding her own business, she was crying and contemplating suicide. “Why am I not ‘normal’? I`m all alone. What`s the point to continue?”. But no, she wouldn`t hurt her family. That`s when she started looking up some things and finding out who she is: a “strong, black, lesbian woman”. Fuck it, I will be who I am, I will act how I like and I will wear the clothes that I want (not actual quote). She did it. High School gave her hell at some points, but she got through it with a smile on her face (her motto, ‘laugh now, cry later’, is artistically imprinted on her skin). She wasn`t openly gay, but she knew it, people knew it, and she had no problem with it. She was on an ask and tell policy: “If you ask me, are you a lesbian?, I will tell you: yes”.
A high-school sensation, Griner was highly expected to succeed at Baylor University. And she did exactly that. With numerous personal records, but most of all a record 40-0 season in 2012 and a NCAA Champion title, it`s safe to say Brittney achieved and surpassed the expectations … although in her final season, Baylor lost the title by being stunned at home by Louisville in a huge upset. She holds the record for most dunks (18) in women`s college basketball and most blocks (748) in both women`s and men`s college basketball. Also, how about a 50 point game in her final regular season game, rounded off with a dunk? That`s crazy!
The Louisville loss wasn`t the only downside in Griner`s Baylor career. While she was balling the hell out of college opponents, and finally being confident about her sexuality, Brittney was forbidden to express it, as Baylor had a low-tolerance for gay athletes. She even had to wear sleeves on the court to hide her tattoos. “I wasn`t alone, I can tell you that. There were many gay athletes at Baylor” said Brittney in an ESPN interview. Talk about USA being the most open-minded country in the world.
Life as herself
Come WNBA draft, where the Phoenix Mercury picked her at no.1, Brittney finally came out and stated what she and her close ones had known for a long time: “I`m gay, I`m a lesbian. I`ll be who I am and nobody can tell me otherwise”. The reactions were mixed, but appreciation and admiration had to be the main consensus.
At the moment, Brittney is facing the challenges that professional basketball brings. Her team is 0-3 to start the season, with solid performances for Griner, including 2 dunks in her first professional game, but also some lapses in concentration from her part. It`s a long road but she is ready to embrace it.
Lebron James openly stated his admiration for Griner`s play. “You know, she`s like Wilt (Chamberlain), she`s dominating out there. We have guys on our team that can`t do what she does. Some of her moves, I haven`t done them”, stated James, who then quickly ego-ed his way into a joke: “I mean I CAN. I can. Let-s not get out of control”. Kareem Abdul Jabbar had training sessions with her in order to teach Brittney his famous sky hook, a thing that Brittney enjoyed greatly and, according to former Lakers superstar, could be repeated. Griner became the first openly gay athlete to sign an endorsement deal with Nike. A new first, she was also allowed to wear men`s apparel.
By far the most controversial basketball-related story involving Griner started when Mavericks` flamboyant owner, Mark Cuban, said he is considering drafting her in the second round of the 2013 NBA Draft. Brittney embraced the idea, saying that she would love to give it a try. Could she compete in the men`s game? Now, probably not, actually almost certainly not. She`s a force in the women`s game, but in the NBA she would face the likes of Dwight Howard, how could she compete with that? The men are taller, much stronger then her, and she doesn`t have the ability to switch positions and play, let`s say Small Forward – only there would she meet men her size, but still, more powerful then her. Right now, she probably should develop her game in the women`s league, to become the destructive force that she showed she can be. In the future though, as she develops her game, who knows? And after all, as she says, “all you can do is give it a try and give it your best”. That won`t hurt anyone. You know, 10 people who don`t stand a chance try, and maybe one of them succeeds. And that`s progress.
People usually reject everything that is not ‘normal’, but there is no such thing as ‘normal’. Society is a mess and Brittney still encounters adversity, especially on social media. “Play like the man you are”. “You wear long shorts so you can tuck it in”. “Griner is a bust”. But at this point, who cares? It`s always possible that one still hides his/her sorrow with a happy face (‘laugh now, cry later’), but apparently she`s worked her way into happiness, both mentally and physically. That`s right, she didn`t have only basketball skills to work on in order to succeed. She had to tough it out mentally too.
Griner`s ambition and skill got her through. Now a well-deserved role-model, she is supporting the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community. She encourages young people to be who they are, or even approach her for support. But one question arises: will the ones that can`t manage to earn a place in the spotlight forever face the blame of society? Will they forever hide in the shadows? We wouldn`t be writing about Brittney now if she wouldn`t have made it, would we? We wouldn`t have known about her. But this is another topic, for someone else to dwell on.
Sports can bring both salvation and remarkable stories. Leaving aside all the gossip, Brittney Griner is a WNBA player that can forever change the game of women`s basketball. If she can do exactly that, it remains to be seen. But with that kind of display that she puts on, you must be a fan. Expect Brittney to be the best that women`s basketball has ever had to offer. After all, that`s who she is: a tough WNBA rookie who works to be the star that she can be. And she really seems to be a nice girl.