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Beyond the Hardwood: Inside Brittney Griner’s Controversial Life

Sports

| LAST UPDATE 10/27/2022

By Elizabeth Russo

These days, the infamous WNBA star's name has been just about everywhere. So let's take a closer look behind the scenes at who the real Brittney Griner is - before she first made a name for herself years ago...

Life at Home

Born in Houston, Texas, to Raymond and Sandra Griner, Brittney was always destined to be a star - and with all the hard work and dedication she put into her craft, that's exactly what happened.

Brittney Griner WNBA BaylorBrittney Griner WNBA Baylor
Instagram via @brittneyyevettegriner

Griner grew up with three older siblings in Houston and spent most of her life in good old Texas. Being raised in The Lone Star State, she soon found her love of all things basketball. The 6'9" basketball player attended high school in Houston before moving to Waco, Texas for college. But it wasn't always smooth sailing.

Like Father, Like Daughter

In an ESPN interview with Griner and her father, the two reflected on her childhood, growing up a lot "bigger" than kids her age, her hobbies, and inheriting the Griner "short fuse." The athlete revealed she would fight "like a boy" after learning self-defense from her old man.

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Instagram via @brittneyyevettegriner

Besides learning self-defense early on, Raymond Griner taught his little girl all she needed to know about cars from an early age, including changing the oil and repairing brakes on the vehicles. "I don't know what some things are called," she noted, "but I can fix them."

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Early Love for Sports

From a young age, Griner always showed a passion for sports, and being as tall as she was, she definitely had an advantage when it came to playing ball. The young girl participated in and won two NFL Punt, Pass & Kick competitions - where she was the only girl enrolled in the games.

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Instagram via @brittneyyevettegriner

Brittney played in the game as a grade-schooler and completely dominated the games over the boys participating, making it clear that she was more than capable of playing with the best of the best. In later years, she would even explore training with the men's teams.

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From Volleyball to Basketball

But before she became a basketball legend, Griner was just another teen playing all sorts of sports until she figured out which one really fit her. The young athlete attended Nimitz High School in Irving, Texas, and spent lots of time on the volleyball court.

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 Ben Margot/A.P. via Shutterstock

Brittney was a talented volleyball player, dominating her high school's varsity team. Playing volleyball, she picked up quite a few valuable skills along the way that would eventually make her a greater overall athlete - especially once she made her way to the basketball court...

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High School Streak

Before making it to the WNBA, Brittney Griner played high school basketball at Nimitz, where she, too, dominated the courts. In her sophomore season alone, the young star averaged 23 points, 11 rebounds, and 6 blocks. But that was only the beginning.

Brittney Griner High SchoolBrittney Griner High School
Nati Harnik/AP via Shutterstock

Griner only improved her game as the seasons went on. And as a junior, she averaged 24.6 points, 12.3 rebounds, and 7.0 blocks. She was a natural. The high-school prodigy recorded single-game highs of 25 blocked shots and 7 dunks on the courts. And people were noticing.

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Learning To Dunk

She was dedicated to the sport and only wanted to improve. So, she spent a whole lotta time learning how to dunk - and according to Griner, she fell a lot in the process. But once she started, she couldn't stop. And she was fascinated by perfecting the dunking craft.

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Ethan Miller via Getty Images

Sure enough, after dunking 52 times as a senior, everyone was learning her name. During the Houston high school playoffs, her skills even became a number 3 highlight on SportsCenter. Even Shaquille O'Neal admitted he watched her dunking videos online.

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Hooping With the Boys

So clearly, she was a talented baller - there was no question about that. Especially after perfecting her dunking technique, she was a legend in the making. So, in the 10th grade, she began practicing with the boys' team, as she was eager to break the gender barrier within her spot.

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 Christian Petersen via Getty Images

Actually, it was working out with the guys that got her curious about dunking in the first place! So, to get ready for all the dunking practice she was about to get into, she would practice with the Nimitz football coaches in the weight room in order to build up her leg strength.

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Making Her Name Known

During her high school days, Griner also participated in the Nike National Skills Academy: where some of the nation's top players from all over got together to participate in scrimmage games that would ultimately determine who was the best of the best.

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 Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images

She quickly became the #1 ranked prospect by ESPN HoopGurlz in the 2009 class, ultimately putting her in a position for greatness. Griner was determined to make it to the big leagues and continue to break more boundaries. And she wasn't going to stop until she did.

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Titles After Titles

Not only was she ranked as the #1 prospect for ESPN HoopGurlz in 2009, but during her high school days, she was also dubbed the country's #1 high school basketball player by Rivals.com. The athlete was clearly skilled, so it was only a matter of time before she went pro.

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 Steve Granitz/WireImage via Getty Images

Griner started building up a parade of accolades early on, between her Rivals.com and HoopGurlz titles - but it didn't end there for the young high school wiz. The basketball superstar was also on the cover of ESPN's Rise Magazine for being the top recruit in all of women's high school basketball.

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'Brittney Griner Day'

With all these titles, accomplishments, and skills, Brittney Griner was destined for success. And everyone knew it. So much so that Houston mayor Bill White declared May 7, 2009, 'Brittney Griner Day' in her hometown. Now, if that's not an accomplishment, what is?

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 Justin Edmonds via Getty Images

The mayor of Houston declared 'Brittney Griner Day' after she set a single-game record of seven dunks against Aldine High School during one of her games. The young high school student had an entire day dedicated to her and her skill - and now the entire city knew it.

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Balling for Baylor

When it was time for Griner to head off to college, she attended Baylor University in Waco, Texas, where she played for the Lady Bears until she graduated in 2013. She would ultimately lead her team to a perfect 40-0 record in 2012, amongst many other victories along the way.

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Cooper Neill via Getty Images

Joining the team as a freshman, Griner automatically became a hit and, of course, made some waves for her unbelievable dunking skills. There was nothing she couldn't do on the court - and by the time her college career was over, she had a record of 135-15.

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In-Game Altercations

Of course, though, there were a few hiccups along the way. As a freshman, the 19-year-old athlete got into a conflict on the court that resulted in her being suspended for two games by the NCAA after she punched a player on the Red Raiders. Yikes.

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Jeff Gross via Getty Images

Griner's coach, Kim Mulkey, came to her defense. And although she was "very disappointed" by the situation, she strongly believed the incident should not define her "as a person or as a player." Unfortunately, the baller was later ejected from a game in 2016 after pushing Chicago's Cappie Pondexter during a game.

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Breaking Records

During her four years playing for Baylor, Griner naturally gained a few high titles for herself and for her team. The young star won her team a national championship in 2012 and a 40-0 record as a junior in that same year. During her time starring for the Baylor Lady Bears, she became a household name in college sports.

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 Justin Edmonds via Getty Images

Griner became an all-time leader in blocked shots and the second-leading scorer during her time on the Baylor courts. While she was playing in Waco, she finished out her four seasons with 3,283 career points, 1,305 rebounds, 748 blocks, and shot 57% from the floor, an NCAA record for both men and women.

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Player of the Year

From there, her wins just continued and continued. And the college athlete was being met with award after award. But with her stats and skills, it was no surprise. Griner brought her college team to their second D-1 championship and, in return, got some pretty impressive titles.

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 Lm Otero/A.P. via Shutterstock

While playing for the Baylor Lady Bears, she was given the title of the A.P. Player of the Year and the Most Outstanding Player in the NCAA 2012 Women's Tournament. She was the driving force of her college team and was officially recognized for her talents by people far and wide.

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Ditching the 2012 Olympics

But Griner did so much more than play collegiate basketball: She spent two weeks as the only college player on tour with the U.S. National Team in Europe after being offered a spot to play in the 2012 London Olympics. However, due to her schooling schedule and her mother's health, she wasn't able to go.

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Karl Gehring/The Denver Post via Getty Images

No worries, though. The U.S. Women's team took home the gold medal that year. "It's a great team... all my role models are on that team," Griner assured. "It was just amazing knowing that I was with them for a little bit overseas. Just to see them out there playing hard, playing strong, and bringing the gold home, it was good."

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Calling Out Baylor

Regardless of the success Griner experienced playing for Baylor, she made it very clear in In My Skin that she didn't have the easiest time attending the university. In her memoir, the athlete detailed her difficult experiences with her coach and how the administration had a "written policy against homosexuality."

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Especially after an article in Sports Illustrated was released saying Griner was told by her coach to keep her sexuality on the DL in order to protect the team's public image. Griner wrote that she "would love to be an ambassador for Baylor," but it's "hard to do that" with the discriminatory rules in place.

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First Overall Pick in the WNBA Draft

Finishing off at Baylor on such a high, the athlete was highly sought out before joining the WNBA. So much so that she was drafted first overall pick for the Phoenix Mercury in 2013. And right off the bat was a huge asset to the team. She even set a league record when she scored two dunks in her first game.

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Instagram via @brittneyyevettegriner

The athlete played in the WNBA for nine years and welcomed nothing but immense success as a top player in the league - especially with her unbelievable dunking skills. The 6'9" superstar dunker went on to average 17.7 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 2.8 blocks in her career.

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Almost Played for the Dallas Mavericks

At around the same time, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban openly stated he would be willing to give Griner a shot at making it onto the esteemed team. "If she is the best on the board, I will take her," Cuban vowed. "You never know unless you give somebody a chance."

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Jeffrey McWhorter/A.P. via Shutterstock

Griner immediately responded to Cuban's remark on Twitter, writing, "I would hold my own! Let's do it," showing interest in the potential offer. The billionaire entrepreneur said it would be difficult, however, to evaluate her ability to play in the NBA. But he "certainly wouldn't be opposed to giving her the opportunity."

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First Women To Breach the NBA?

As we now know, that never happened. But if things had gone to plan, Griner would have been the first woman to be drafted to the NBA - which would have simultaneously been a great win for women in sports around the world, but also would have affected the way the entire WNBA runs.

Brittney Griner WNBA DraftBrittney Griner WNBA Draft
Andrea Vilchez/SPP via Shutterstock

If she was drafted to the NBA, it would have affected the credibility of the WNBA and overall ticket sales for the league - given how popular Griner was and the influence she had over spectators. However, she was not the first female to attempt breaching the barrier, with Ann Meyers, who tried out for the Pacers in 1979.

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Heading Overseas

During the WNBA off-season, the athlete played overseas, something pretty common for female players - to compensate for lower salaries. "The reason Brittney Griner and other women are in Russia playing basketball is because they don't get paid anywhere near what the men get paid in the U.S.," a journalist reported at the time.

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Richard Ellis/UPI via Shutterstock

Players in the WNBA make a lower income than players in the NBA due to the massive difference in revenue between the two leagues. The NBA earns 132 times more ($7.92 billion) than the women's league ($60 million), resulting in much lower salaries between the athletes.

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Money Talks

With that being said, today, Brittney Griner is still one of the highest-paid players in the WNBA - earning about $228,000/year without any bonuses included. In comparison, the highest-paid WNBA player, Jewell Lloyd, walks home with an average of $231,515 a season. But Stephen Curry walks away with $48.1 million.

Brittney Griner WNBA Salary Brittney Griner WNBA Salary
Instagram via @brittneyyevettegriner

In addition to her WNBA income, Griner earns about $1 million per season playing overseas for Russia. She also recently scored a $1 million contract with Nike as she "believes in what they are doing" in terms of supporting the LGBTQ community. She also made it clear she wouldn't sign with a brand that didn't support LGBTQ athletes.

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WNBA Championship

During the 2014 season, Brittney was one of the powerful Big 3 to dominate the court alongside Diana Taurasi and Candice Dupree. The three were unstoppable on the court, and together with the whole Mercury team, they took how the championship title, defeating the Los Angeles Sparks.

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Andrea Vilchez/SPP via Shutterstock

The Big 3 helped score the Mercury's third championship in the franchise's history, and Griner set a few records that are still very memorable to this day. The athlete became the first WNBA player to dunk in a playoff game. And she set a finals record in game 1 for the most blocks in a quarter (5) and a game (8).

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2014 FIBA World Champs

That same year, Griner was a part of the team that took home the gold in the FIBA World championships. FIBA is the International Basketball Federation, an association of national organizations which defines the official rules of the sport and the equipment needed, organizes all international competitions, and more.

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 Tolga Bozoglu/EPA via Shutterstock

In 2014, the U.S. won its fifth world championship after beating Serbia in the Finals - and Brittney Griner was a part of the team to make it happen, even though she was the last player to join the roster. However, her coach credits her as one of the reasons for their win, saying, "You know, Brittney changes games, obviously."

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Published Author

The athlete published a memoir in 2014, titled In My Skin: My Life On and Off the Basketball Court with Sue Hovey, giving fans a closer look at who the real Brittney Griner is. She revealed some of the most challenging moments of her life to some of the most exciting ones, making fans love her that much more.

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Instagram via @brittneyyevettegriner

"I really don't talk about the past that much because it just wasn't good," she later mused. The author revealed she was constantly bullied as a kid and that she became a "regular target" for being a "physical misfit." From her size to her sexuality and physical appearance, the athlete heard it all before becoming the star she is today.

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Making It to the Olympics

After being unable to play in the 2012 Olympics, Griner got her shot to play in the 2016 Olympics in Rio for the U.S. women's basketball team... and led them to victory taking home the gold. Her Olympic career did not end there - and she went on to play in the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

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Charlie Neibergall/AP via Shutterstock

Her Olympics success continued years later when she played for the U.S. team again in 2021 at the 2020 Olympics, which was postponed due to the pandemic. It was there that she took home another gold medal for her team, proving, yet again, that she was one of the greatest Olympians to ever do it.

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Protesting the National Anthem

But amongst all the success was a fair share of chaos: in 2020, Griner made headlines after calling on the WNBA to stop playing the national anthem before games and protesting the Star Spangled Banner. "I honestly feel we should not play the National Anthem during our season," she said. "I think we should take that much of a stand."

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Rick Scuteri/A.P. via Shutterstock

"I don't mean that in any disrespect to our country. My dad was in Vietnam and was a law officer for 30 years. I wanted to be a cop before basketball. I do have pride for my country," she assured regarding the scandal. However, she made it clear she would not be present for the National Anthem.

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Her 28-Day Marriage

Back in 2015, Griner walked down the aisle and wed fellow WNBA player Glory Johnson, with vows per the New York Times, saying, "I promise to be the Whitney to your Bobby, the Bonnie to your Clyde, the Ike to your Tina." But things, unfortunately, didn't end up like Bonnie and Clyde.

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instagram via @missvol25

The newlyweds didn't last together very long. After 28 days of marriage, the couple split, and their divorce was finalized around a year later. However, the day before they announced their divorce, Johnson revealed she was pregnant with twins, Ava and Solei.

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Who Is Glory Johnson?

Glory Johnson, Griner's ex-wife, was drafted to the WNBA in 2012. She played for the Dallas Wings for a few seasons before joining the Atlanta Dream in 2020 as a free agent. Today, Johnson is playing for the Turkish club team Beşiktaş, as many WNBA players do.

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Tony Gutierrez/A.P. via Shutterstock

However, the couple was not meant to be, as they were married for just three weeks after they were both arrested on domestic violence charges after a fight at their home in Phoenix. Following the fight, they were both suspended seven games after their arrests.

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Child Support Battles

The couple filed for an annulment, and Johnson demanded financial support from her ex-wife, stating that both of them had agreed to raise the children. However, Griner disputed the statement but still was mandated by a judge to pay $2,516 a month in child support for each child - and another $2,835 for daycare.

Brittney Griner WNBA WifeBrittney Griner WNBA Wife
Instagram via @avasimonesoleidiem

However, Griner did not have to pay any spousal support to Johnson. Glory Johnson later commented on her relationship with Griner, saying, "You can't help who you care about and help who you marry. At the end of the day, everything happens for a reason."

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Moving On

Despite her first marriage not working out, Griner re-married her now wife, Cherelle Griner, in 2019 - and they two are still going strong. The couple actually met while they both attended Baylor University as undergraduates but didn't date each other until years later.

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Instagram via @brittneyyevettegriner

"I will never forget the day I met you at Baylor in the sub-area!" Brittney recalled, celebrating their anniversary. "I was immediately blown away at your beauty! You had no idea, but I knew you were the one for me, baby," she wrote. Despite all the turmoil on and off the hardwood, we wish nothing but the best for the lovebirds…

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