This essay is part of the Ultimate Texas Celebrity Bracket. Read them all—and cast your vote!—here.

Everything is bigger in Texas and that certainly includes Brittney Griner.

She towers over nearly everyone, at six feet nine inches, and her wingspan is more than seven feet long. Her father, who only clocks in at six two, once remarked that she has to be careful to dodge ceiling fans. “Some girls when they’re tall, they have a real hard time dealing with their height and their confidence level,” Griner said during her senior year at Houston’s Nimitz High School. “When I started getting tall, I just wanted to keep growing.”

She’s used her height, as well as her athleticism and growing basketball savvy, to become one of the greatest players ever. She’s an NCAA champion from her time at Baylor University, a WNBA champion, a nine-time WNBA All-Star (including 2022, when Griner was detained in Russia and the league made her an honorary All-Star), a four-time EuroLeague champion, a two-time FIBA World Cup champion, and a two-time Olympic gold medalist. She’s skilled on both sides of the ball, winning awards throughout her career for her defense (she currently holds the NCAA record for most career shot blocks and the WNBA record for most blocks in a single season) and racking up points on offense (her WNBA career average is 17.7 points per game, while making 56 percent of her field goal attempts). She’s also known for her dunks which, starting in high school, made the highlights on ESPN’s SportsCenter. She holds the NCAA women’s basketball record with eighteen career jams, and she’s had at least a couple dozen more during her time in the WNBA.

But perhaps what’s biggest—and therefore most Texan—about Griner is her ability to overcome adversity, from her experiences as a Black queer woman at Baylor, to her time as a political prisoner in Russia.

As a kid growing up on the north side of Houston and its nearby suburbs, Griner would climb trees, hunt squirrels, and work on cars with her dad. She played volleyball and soccer in middle school. But it was as a freshman at Nimitz that she found basketball. “I didn’t think I was very good, and I didn’t even think I could make the team in the eighth grade,” she told Texas Monthly. “But it didn’t take long for me to realize that this was my sport.”

After she graduated from Nimitz in 2009, Griner stayed in Texas, traveling north to Waco where she became the anchor of the Baylor Bears basketball team under legendary head coach Kim Mulkey. In the 2011–2012 season, the team led the Associated Press rankings from the preseason through the final tally and went 40–0 en route to the NCAA title. Griner was a junior that year, and she was named National Player of the Year as well as the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player.

At the same time, her attendance at the Baptist university, which had a sexual misconduct policy prohibiting “homosexual acts” until 2015, was fraught. Griner had known since middle school that she was gay. She said as much to Mulkey while the coach was recruiting her, and recalls that Mulkey said her sexual orientation wouldn’t be an issue. “But within her first few weeks at Baylor, Griner was asked by a school official to delete a tweet to an ex-girlfriend,” ESPN reported soon after Griner graduated from Baylor. “When I was at Baylor, I wasn’t fully happy because I couldn’t be all the way out,” Griner said. “It feels so good saying it: I am a strong, Black lesbian woman.”

In the 2013 WNBA draft, the Phoenix Mercury selected her first overall and she’s played with the team her entire professional career, including during its championship run in 2014. Perhaps the most fun Griner stat from that season is that she had more blocked shots than eight entire teams did, in a league with eleven franchises.

Like many WNBA players, she played overseas in the offseason to supplement her income. She was a mainstay on UMMC Ekaterinburg in Russia, a team she was traveling to in February 2022, when she was arrested on charges of carrying vape cartridges containing cannabis oil. A week later, Russia invaded Ukraine. The U.S. Department of State declared that Griner was “wrongfully detained.” Eventually, she was found guilty, sentenced to nine years in prison, and sent to a penal colony. Weeks later, the U.S. negotiated her release, swapping her for a notorious Russian arms dealer. When Griner returned home in December 2022, her plane landed in San Antonio and her first steps fell on Texas soil.

Her release was controversial, in part because she was one of many athletes who protested police killings of Black Americans by kneeling during the National Anthem following the murder of Houston native George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer in 2020. After her return from Russia, Griner told the Atlantic‘s Jemele Hill that she planned to stand for the anthem following everything the government did to support her. Even so, Griner still faced in-person harassment over her activism and the prisoner swap that brought her home.

But Griner has not backed away from her vocal support of marginalized communities. In her first news conference after returning to the U.S., Griner defended the rights of transgender athletes to participate in sports corresponding to their gender identities. “That ranks high on the list of things I’ll be fighting for and speaking up against,” she said. “Everyone deserves the right to play.” Last year, Griner received the WNBA Cares Community Assist Award for her continued advocacy for Americans wrongly imprisoned around the world and for work with the unhoused community in Phoenix.

She has also returned to the court and remains great at the game that made her famous. Crowds in every arena cheered her on last season; she dunked and she earned a spot as a starter in the All-Star game.

Last June, the Mercury traveled to Dallas to play the Wings in Griner’s first game back in her home state. When asked how she felt, Griner said, “I miss Texas so much. I miss being at home. Just the culture. When you from Texas, you know it’s like the best place to be.”

Griner has cemented her position in sports history at Baylor and in Texas. Last month, her alma mater retired her number 42, raising a banner adorned with it into the rafters of the basketball arena. The university released a video commemorating the event, which starts with Griner arriving in Waco by plane. As she stepped on the tarmac, she threw her arms above her head and shouted, “I’m home!”