From a celebrated hoops prodigy to a self-reliant professional basketball star, from Baylor to the WNBA and overseas, Brittney Griner had a wild ride last year. Her trip ended in China, where she drew oohs and aahs from fascinated crowds … and learned a little something about herself along the way.
China is a lucrative market for WNBA stars, but the culture clash – and expectations – can make the transition difficult for a young player trying to improve her game. Griner, 23, has embraced her surroundings as best she can, trying to strike a balance between comfort and immersion. She stays up late, connecting with family and friends who are starting their day back in Houston. She also learns some Chinese from her teammates, hanging out with them in their hotel because, unlike Griner, they are forbidden to leave the premises without permission.
Every morning, Griner takes the elevator down to the hotel lobby, pushes through the revolving doors and then jaywalks across the street to Subway for a chicken teriyaki sub – exactly what she would order at home in the U.S. Food in hand, she heads to the arena, where she works on her own game and then later dutifully executes Li’s commands during practice, even if Griner and Demopoulos have a dozen ideas of how she could be used more effectively. “Here in China,” Griner says, “you just have to forget everything you know, or think you know, and be willing to accept a new set of rules.”