NEW YORK — Before they were college basketball stars and the future of the WNBA, Brittney Griner, Skylar Diggins and Elena Delle Donne had something else in common: They were all bullied when they were kids.
The three were top picks in the WNBA draft held April 17. Griner was selected by the Phoenix Mercury, Diggins by the Tulsa Shock and Delle Donne by the Chicago Sky.
They talked to The Associated Press on draft day about a variety of topics, including how standing out in a crowd wasn’t always easy.
“It was hard. Just being picked on for being different. Just being bigger, my sexuality, everything,” said the 6-foot-8 Griner, who has acknowledged she is a lesbian. “I overcame it and got over it. Definitely something that I am very passionate about. I want to work with kids and bring recognition to the problem, especially with the LGBT community.”
Delle Donne, who is 6-5, said she was also picked on when she was younger, not just for her size but also because of her elder sister Lizzie, who is deaf, blind and has cerebral palsy.
“Being way taller than the other girls, they’d make fun of me,” Delle Donne said. “Issues with my sister that you wouldn’t believe. People saying she looked like a monster. It was so hurtful.”
Diggins said girls are cruel and would make fun of her for “whatever it was that day.”
The Notre Dame star, who stands at a more pedestrian 5-foot-9, said she used to want to go back at those people who would verbally attack her but learned a lot from the way Griner has dealt with the negativity surrounding her.
“I don’t think anyone has handled it better than Brittney,” Diggins said. “It’s great to see how she handles herself in this situation. People are cruel. She handles every situation with such class and it’s inspiring and she’s taught me some things about when people say bad things. She’s a poster child for how to handle criticism.”
Delle Donne remembers first meeting Griner at an All-America ceremony.
“We were all sitting there and no one was talking to each other and then Brittney comes bounding in and broke the ice with everyone just being herself,” she said.
The trio has become friends over the course of the season, tweeting and texting to one another.
Griner joked they aren’t “getting together for movies or alligator tails in Waco” but have developed a kinship, rooting for one another over the course of the season and consoling when their college careers ended.
“I hadn’t felt that way any other year,” Diggins said. “I’d see them play and go, ‘Wow, she got fouled. That’s not right.’”
Griner admitted also cheering for the other two during the season.
“People act like we shouldn’t root each other on,” the two-time AP Player of the Year said. “Why not? Why do I have to hope they fail? I want them to make it all the way. When we meet on the court, we put aside friendship and then when the game’s over we can joke around again.”
Diggins has big plans for the trio and hopes they can play together in the 2016 Rio Olympics in a proposed 3-on-3 basketball event. Sure, the IOC Executive board first has to approve the event on Aug. 9 but to Diggins that’s just a formality.
“Think about how much attention it would draw, the three of us playing together in the first one,” Diggins said. “It would be such a great honor. We would win. We would definitely win.”