Sportswriters have called Phoenix Mercury rookie Brittney Griner “the greatest women’s basketball player of all time” on more than a few occasions – high praise indeed for someone who has yet to play a minute of professional basketball. But maybe superlatives are warranted when you’re a 6-foot-8, three-time All-American whose 18 career dunks at Baylor University were more than every other female player combined in the history of the NCAA.
To say Griner arrives in Phoenix with high expectations is a laughable understatement. After making her the first overall pick in the WNBA Draft in April, the Mercury promptly unfurled a 77-foot banner bearing Griner’s braided likeness and renamed First Street near US Airways Center “Griner Street” to launch a new marketing campaign.
With her size 17 or 18 men’s shoe (depending on the brand) and tough, smack-talking demeanor, Griner cuts a formidable presence on the court. But off the court she’s relaxed, articulate and quick with humor. “I will crack jokes all day long,” Griner said during a sit-down with PHOENIX magazine. “I’m just a big kid. I hope you are, too.”
What did you know about the city of Phoenix and the state of Arizona before being drafted?
I didn’t really know anything. I just always knew Phoenix equals hot and everybody keeps telling me that, so I’m getting scared. How hot is it going to get? Am I going to melt? Somebody even told me if you walk out on the cement without socks on, it will scorch the bottom of your feet. I’m keeping that in the back of my head.
Can you paint a picture of your life since you were drafted No. 1 overall?
It’s been a whirlwind with all the media. I didn’t think there was this much media, but it’s cool, especially on the women’s side, that we’re getting this much coverage, so I’m loving it. I’m not dreading it, but I am ready to get some sleep.
How did feel when you saw the 77-foot banner Downtown of you dunking?
It’s definitely humbling, and I’m deeply appreciative. It reminded [me] of LeBron [James] when he was in Cleveland. I just hope mine doesn’t get burned. So let me put this out there: I will be here as long as you want me.
You chose to reveal that you are lesbian during draft week. Why then?
I’ve always been open about everything. If you ask, I’ll tell. Coming out of college, you have a lot more say-so, a lot more freedom. With all the bullying I went through as a kid, I wanted to voice that and tell my story. Maybe it would help someone else get through it, or help people learn how they affect other people with what they say.
You are a big extreme sports buff. Why?
I watched the X Games growing up. I didn’t hoop until ninth grade. I used to think I was going to be another Tony Hawk. I love ATV racing, dirt bike racing, BMX, inline skating, wakeboarding, snowboarding and especially longboarding. I call those my adrenaline-rush sports.
What’s your perfect day if you don’t have basketball duties?
Wake up late, hit some hills, then some parking garages with my longboard, listening to the soundtrack from Lords of Dogtown. Maybe I’ll go to the lake or river because I like wakeboarding even though I’m not very good. Then to end the night, some barbecue. Love barbecue. Love lamb, goat, duck, alligator.
You’ve been called the greatest women’s basketball player ever. Do you feel you have to live up to the hype in the WNBA while elevating the women’s game?
I haven’t played a lick of pros yet, so it’s crazy to hear that, but they hyped me up so big in college that I got used to it, and I feel like I kind of lived up to it.
If Phoenix Mercury rookie sensation Brittney Griner got you into a sporting mood, check out our behind-the-scenes video with Brittney.
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