The Incomparable Brittney Griner

By Ben York,
Posted: April 15, 2013

To be incomparable, being different is a necessity.

That’s why, if you ever find yourself roaming the streets of downtown Phoenix on a lazy Sunday afternoon, and you see a 6-8 woman with dreadlocks riding a longboard, who may or may not be eating bacon, do not, though it might be your first inclination, assume that person is misdirected.

That person may be Brittney Griner.

This is the Griner of legend—a larger than life amalgamation of Dora the Explorer on Red Bull with the humor and warmth of Ellen DeGeneres. It’s the Griner whose on-court personality of dominance and authority couldn’t be more contradictory off it. And it’s the Griner so openly esteemed by basketball-heads all over the country, they continue to maintain that we’ve never seen anyone like her before in women’s basketball.

The best part? On April 15, 2013 just after 5 PM Arizona time, Brittney Griner officially became a member of the Phoenix Mercury.

Related: Draft Index | Griner Section | College Photos | Legends on Griner | LeBron on Brittney

This first thing I noticed about Brittney Griner wasn’t her height, but her smile.

The Phoenix Mercury’s newest player probably doesn’t remember the first time we met, nor should she. I was in Las Vegas covering the USA Women’s Basketball National Team’s training camp in May of 2011. At the time, Griner’s now legendary status was still in its infancy. (Nevertheless, at the end of training camp, Diana Taurasi said Brittney Griner was the most special player she’s ever seen.)

I don’t know the scientific name for it, but something grandiose materializes in our minds when we picture celebrities or superstars. They become…epic. Or, invented. It’s the same reason everyone is shocked to find out that Tom Cruise (and pretty much every other action movie star) is only 5 foot 7. (Shouldn’t they be, like, 6 foot 5 at the very least?) Therefore, when I met Brittney Griner, who stands 6 foot 8, I anticipated she’d appear closer to 7 feet in my mind.

Here’s the kicker – because of her compassionate personality and benevolence, she wasn’t Brittney Griner the 6 foot 8 baller who would go on to amass 748 blocks at Baylor, more than any other player (male or female) in NCAA history. She wasn’t Brittney Griner, the “girl who can dunk,” and did so 18 times (more than all other women’s college basketball players combined). And she wasn’t Brittney Griner, the second all-time leading scorer in NCAA women’s history with 3,283 points.

She was just…Brittney.

If I’m honest, I don’t remember what we talked about. I do remember, however, that once we said our good-byes at half-court, she turned around, took a couple dribbles, stopped at the free throw line, and geared up for an astonishing 360 dunk. It was then I realized, in awe; this was the same person I conversed with just minutes before.

During our chat, being the most dominant player in women’s college basketball history wasn’t important – at least, not then.

We were just two human beings having a conversation.

When you strip away the externals and preconceived notions, Brittney Griner is exactly that – a human being, and a beautiful one. Through conscious, persistent growth (both physically and emotionally) Griner has been able to solidify her distinctive, infectious blueprint for how to live life: have fun, work hard and be true to yourself.

Be true to yourself…

It may sound tired, but few people truly embody that creed today. In a society where differences amongst individuals are often singled out and judged, Griner charmingly embraces her uniqueness both as a player and as a person.

Indeed, her above-the-rim game is unlike anything we’ve seen in the WNBA, but so is her altruistic passion to help others. In college at Baylor, she volunteered at nearly a dozen non-profits during her tenure there. Now, as a professional, Griner wants to be a driving force in the effort to stop bullying.

I’ve heard that the fear of inadequacy isn’t our deepest fear as individuals, but that we are “powerful beyond measure.” That is to say, the light, not our darkness, scares us the most and, often, holds us back. In Brittney Griner’s case, she fears nothing. If you look at the qualities of the most influential people in sports, there is one trait that unites all of them together. They have an unshakeable belief in themselves and are willing to sustain that confidence (not arrogance) throughout the best of times and worst of times.

I don’t know what Brittney Griner’s legacy will be. I do know, however, that it will be remarkable. For as much as she has accomplished on the basketball court (and has yet to accomplish in the WNBA), perhaps Griner’s greatest strength is maintaining dominance on it while humbling herself off it.

Ultimately, now that Brittney Griner is a Phoenix Mercury, we have the privilege of seeing Griner’s progressive influence on Phoenix and the women’s basketball world manifest itself firsthand.

That, alone, is enormously admirable.

Couple that with her unrivaled ability on the basketball floor – that makes her incomparable.