You spent the off-season playing in China. What was the toughest part of that experience?
> Food was the big thing. I couldn’t eat pork or beef there; a lot of steroids were pumped in the meat. It was bad news.
I hear you love bacon. When you moved back home, did you slam so much of it?
> I didn’t want to overdo it, you know? Come back, eat a bunch and just throw up and never want to eat it again. I eased my way back in, but I’m back to eating whole packs of bacon now.
Whole packs at once? No!
> Yeah, my girlfriend, when she cooks dinner for us, she knows she has to cook me an appetizer of a whole thing of bacon.
How big a factor was money in your decision to go to China?
> It was big. [If] money wasn’t up, I dang sure wasn’t going to put myself through that struggle for four and a half months away from my family. And me and my girlfriend had just got serious.
Have you ever made it through an interview without your sexual orientation coming up?
> No. It’s really big. Everybody talks about it and I kind of talk about it a lot, too.
Do you get tired of it?
> No, actually I don’t. It’s not a tiring topic. [Laughs.]
You must’ve told the story of how you came out 1,000 times.
> But I never get tired of it because not everybody reads the same article, and somebody going through that struggle might read this one. So I always talk about it.
What was the worst bullying you faced as a kid?
> People coming up to me and actually physically touching me and mocking me for having a flat chest.
What was your reaction?
> I would react the wrong way; I would get in trouble in school, I would act out, I didn’t really know what to do.
You still get a lot of hate, and I’ve heard that you read all of it—on Twitter, on Instagram. Why read it?
> To see what people are saying. I’m not gonna not read my comments just because I’m noticing bad stuff. They’ll say, “F–king gay, that’s nasty. You’re going to hell. Nobody cares.” Well, if nobody cares, why are you even writing on here? You choose to follow me, you choose to look at my page.
What’s more important: Brittney Griner the player, or Brittney Griner the brand and ambassador?
> I feel like the player is first. If you’re not that big player, then nobody’s really gonna know who you are to promote the brand. If LeBron says, “Go buy this shoe, it’s amazing,” I would probably go buy it. But if some random person on the street was like, “Hey, go buy this shoe,” I probably wouldn’t.
How would you define your brand?
> Definitely unique. I’m not a regular basketball player, I guess. I’m a big supporter of the LGBT community and stopping bullying. On an off-day I’d rather not watch SportsCenter or basketball. I’d rather go longboard, jet ski, do something extreme-sport-wise, watch racin’. My favourite one is the rampage, where they’re going straight down the side of a hill on mountain bikes.
You’re six-foot-eight; you must hear about that a lot. What’s the weirdest thing a stranger has ever said to you?
> It’s just the obvious stuff I always get. “Whoa, you’re tall!” Or, “Oh man, you got big feet.” [Laughs.] I gave it back to one person before; they said, “You’re tall,” and I was like, “Whoa, you’re pretty short!” Then they kinda frowned at me and I was like, “Oh, you didn’t like me pointing out the obvious?”
Dunk or block. What fires you up more?
> Block. Rejecting a shot, it reminds me of getting a good spike in volleyball, and that’s my favourite thing to do.
What’s the hardest part of being you?
> Overcoming what I overcame. Learning how to be comfortable with myself on my own, because I didn’t ask for help.
Your biggest regret?
> Not speaking out.
I was hoping you’d say when you punched a girl in the face during a college game.
> Yeah, I did. And I definitely regret it. But a good thing came out of it: I had to go to counselling, which really helped me out.
What advice do you give to a kid struggling with some of the issues you faced, who’s scared to come out or be herself?
> Don’t be scared to get help. You’re definitely not alone. Speak up. Don’t be silent.
This story originally appeared in Sportsnet magazine. Subscribe here.