The Real Brittney Griner

By Ben York,
Posted: April 17, 2013

It’s been less than 12 hours since Brittney Griner was selected by the Phoenix Mercury in the 2013 WNBA Draft, and just seven hours from the time the grueling media circuit of countless interviews came to an end.

Right now, it’s just after 8:30 AM on a Tuesday morning.

There are no cameras rolling.

No one around to take pictures.

No media. No fans.

Most people are either asleep or just beginning to start their day. After the magnificent mayhem that was WNBA Draft night, the silence is almost deafening now at a hotel by ESPN headquarters in Bristol, Connecticut.

Brittney Griner emerges from the lobby with a Red Bull, a duffle bag full of Skittles and the brightest smile I’ve ever seen.

“Brittney,” the bus driver says with excitement. “I just wanted to say congrats. Wow, you’re taller than I thought.”

“Oh, thank you!” a jubilant Brittney Griner responded. “I appreciate that. I still can’t believe it. Hey, you want some candy?”

Remember, this is after maybe three hours of sleep combined over the previous 48 hours. For Griner, sleep matters not. The same fun-loving person will show up whether it’s in front of one person or a hundred, one hour of sleep or ten.

Still happy, still humble, still appreciative.

“I mean that,” she said to members of the Mercury staff joining her on the bus ride to New York for a media blitz. “I think it is finally starting to sink in. It’s like a dream to officially be a Mercury.”

The bus ride is over two hours to New York from Connecticut, so there was ample time to get to know Brittney Griner the person very well. We talked about her favorite movies (she can’t wait to see Iron Man 3), her life growing up (she loved to work on cars with her dad), video games (she’s a fan of Assassin’s Creed) and what type of restaurants she can expect to find in Phoenix.

It was like talking to a lifelong friend.

Once the bus pulled up to the WNBA offices in New York, a crowd of fans and media awaited Griner’s arrival. After more interviews and league obligations in New York, Griner would head to the New York Yankees game – a team whom, as fate would have it, happened to be playing the Arizona Diamondbacks on “Jackie Robinson Night.”

When Brittney was in high school, she wanted a number on her basketball jersey that was at least double-digits. So, they gave her the number 42. However, a short time later when Griner truly learned about the significance of the number that Jackie Robinson wore, and what it meant to professional sports, she kept it as a tribute to him and an inspiration to her.

As a surprise, the Arizona Diamondbacks gave Griner an official team jersey with her name and number on it.

“Brittney!” said a group of fans in the stands at Yankee Stadium as Griner watched Diamondback batting practice. “We love you!”

Griner smiled and waved, just as she had done with dozens and dozens of fans and media earlier. She must’ve taken several hundred pictures that night.

But even after several days full of appearance after appearance and meeting after meeting, Griner was as polite and cordial as any professional athlete I’ve ever been around. At one point, she humorously grabbed a video camera and started recording the fans and photographers.

“It’s my turn now!” she joked.

I asked her if it ever got old – the interviews and appearances.

“Never,” Griner said. “Everybody gets a little tired but I like doing these things.

“I mean, I’m at Yankee Stadium after being the first pick in the WNBA draft. I’m a Phoenix Mercury. Trust me; there’s nothing to complain about.”