"I prefer to be true to myself, even at the hazard of incurring the ridicule of others, rather than to be false, and to incur my own abhorrence." " Frederick Douglass
September 6, 2013, 5:50 P.M.
Brittney Griner is in full game-preparation mode.
She and the Phoenix Mercury are warming up on the main floor of US Airways Center before facing the San Antonio Silver Stars. One could argue that It's the biggest game of the year for Phoenix; a victory earns them a coveted spot in the WNBA playoffs.
Not far away, a little girl no more than seven-years-old and three feet tall stands behind the courtside seats near half-court wearing a Brittney Griner No. 42 Mercury jersey. She"s also holding a pen and picture of Griner.
"Brittney! Brittney!!" fans shout at Griner from all directions.
She turns, smiles and waves.
But when Griner sees the shy girl standing alone, she makes a point to sneak away and introduce herself. As Griner made her way over, the little girls" eyes opened wide.
Her smile lit up the entire arena.
"How's it going?" Griner asked. "You excited for the game today?"
Speechless, the girl nodded as Griner signed her jersey and photo.
The girl's dream was no longer deferred.
It's increasingly difficult to fathom, but not even five months have passed since the Phoenix Mercury selected Brittney Griner with the No. 1 pick in the 2013 WNBA Draft. The build-up to which has never before been seen in women"s basketball.
The subsequent weeks and months after the draft were fraught with interviews, appearances and countless meet-and-greets with fans (both at home and on the road). Through it all, Griner has never stopped smiling or being herself; she is genuinely appreciative of the position she"s in as a role model for young women across the globe.
From a basketball standpoint, Griner has been impressive during her rookie campaign. The 6-8 center is shooting 56.7 percent from the field (second in the league) and has shot at least 60 percent from the floor in six of her last 12 games, 13 total on the season.
Additionally, Griner is averaging a franchise-record 2.91 blocks per game " the highest average by a WNBA player since 2008 (Lisa Leslie, 2.94). In fact, it is still possible that Griner could become just the second player in WNBA history to average at least 3.00 blocks in a season and the first since 2002 (Margo Dydek). To date, Griner owns a franchise-record 11 games with at least four blocks and is on pace to block 79 shots this season (franchise record: 64, Maria Stepanova, 2001).
Off the court, her national profile has helped to create unprecedented awareness for the Phoenix Mercury and, in turn, the entire WNBA.
Through April 30, Mercury season ticket sales were at a 39 percent increase over all of 2012 and the team continues to lead the league in new full season tickets sold as well as new package revenue. Phoenix also has the highest road attendance of any team in the WNBA and Griner has held postgame appearances in nine markets after games.
Even more amazing, the Mercury's May 27 home opener vs. Chicago resulted in the largest revenue for a regular season game since 1998 and the second-largest game overall, trailing only Game 5 of the 2009 WNBA Finals.
While increased awareness is vitally important, even more so is Griner's graceful personification of integrity and character in the growth of women"s basketball.
As Phoenix and the WNBA continue to get to know Brittney Griner, they've discovered It's impossible to dislike her. She"s bold and dynamic, sure, but she"s also one of the funniest human beings on the planet.
Her fun-loving attitude is infectious; her kind demeanor is refreshing.
But her most inspiring character trait, as we"ve seen firsthand, is her courage.
Case in point: Brittney Griner never formally came out; it was more of an acknowledgement. For Griner, her sexuality wasn"t something she felt the need to hide (nor should anyone, for that matter).
"People have asked me if I"m at all bothered that my "announcement" after the WNBA draft last month didn"t receive as much attention as Jason [Collins"]," Brittney Griner wrote in a New York Times article in May of this year. "Frankly, it didn"t matter at all to me. I simply answered a question honestly and am just happy to tell my truth and to be in a position to encourage others to do the same. It's all about living an honest life and being comfortable in your own skin. It strengthens me to know that Jason and I (along with so many other out pioneers and allies) are united in a mission to inspire others who may be struggling. I want everyone to feel at peace and O.K. with being who he or she is.
"Just as basketball doesn't define who I am, neither does being gay."
She"s right; neither basketball nor your sexuality defines who you are. More importantly, she embodies that creed on a daily basis.
But what does define Brittney Griner?
It's the little, meaningful interactions she has with fans of all ages, genders and personalities before every game " home and away.
It's the time when she went out of her way to meet with hundreds of fans during the 2013 WNBA All-Star Game " a game she wasn"t even playing in due to an injury.
It's how she treats others in the same respectful way after a win or loss.
It's choosing to take the high road in spite of the bigotry she encounters on a daily basis.
"The good news is that I do see change coming," Griner added in the New York Times article. "It might be slow, but there are so many positive signs. After being drafted by the Phoenix Mercury and with more media acknowledging my sexuality, I"ve received more hugs, tweets, thank-yous and well-wishes in regard to being "out" than ever. Countless people have come up to me and thanked me for being proud of who I am.
"It's my job now to, I hope, be a light who inspires others."
Griner's reputation is in the hands of others; she doesn't have control over what people think of her.
Nevertheless, the example she has set off the court in regards to being fully comfortable in your own skin has already made a lasting impact in the sports world and beyond. At only 22-years-old with just a few weeks left in her first WNBA season " as clich" as it may sound " the sky is the limit for her.