Being Wright… WNBA Star Shares Her Journey
Written by Trish Teves
Monica Wright is no rookie to the spotlight. As a star basketball player in high school, she was named the Gatorade Virginia Player of the Year and was ranked 11th player overall in the nation. At the University of Virginia, she was Rookie of the Year, Player of the Year, and National Defensive Player of the Year. It’s clear to see why the Minnesota Lynx drafted her as their number two overall pick, and no surprise that she quickly earned playing time and two WNBA titles. All that being said, the notoriety Wright did not expect was the attention she gained from her off the court relationship with NBA All-Star Kevin Durant. The two met in high school when both were All-American basketball players. Risen spoke with Wright after a Lynx practice, where she talked about the temptations in the professional sports world, her life-altering moment in college, and the public relationship that led to one of the toughest decisions of her life.
Interviewed exclusively for Risen Magazine
Risen Magazine: Was basketball a talent that turned into a passion or a passion that turned into a talent?
Monica Wright: It was more of a talent that turned into a passion. I grew up as an athletic kid; I loved playing anything active and I was always outside burning off energy. As I grew up, I played soccer and then ran track because my brother ran track. But once I got my hands on a basketball, it was really all over from there. I fell in love with it. I wanted to go to college on a full-ride scholarship and that became my goal.
Risen Magazine: When you started playing basketball, did it come really easy to you and everybody could tell that was the path for you?
Monica Wright: I was so much more athletic than everyone else and my parents knew that I could excel at basketball once they saw me play. I wasn’t very good at first, but over time it grew on me.
Risen Magazine: So then, it was a passion that grew into a talent.
Monica Wright: Mmmm…it’s kinda both. I just started out a tomboy. I loved playing sports. I found out I could get a scholarship for basketball and go to any college. I wasn’t great right away. But I excelled because of hard work. I’m still not the most talented player, but I’m extremely athletic and that’s the reason why I’m able to survive in the WNBA.
Risen Magazine: Tell me about your childhood.
Monica Wright: I have one brother who is nine years older than me. He went off to college by the time I was nine. I grew up being an outside girl, never wore a lot of dresses and if I did they would be dirty by the end of the day and my mom would be upset. My hair was never really together, it was all over the place. There was nothing my mom could do about it even though she tried. I guess, it’s still the same story now [laughing].
Risen Magazine: Has there been one individual that helped you get where you are now?
Monica Wright: I would say Jesus Christ is the main person who helped me, as far as maturity, service, and growth. Or do you mean on the basketball court?
Risen Magazine: Either one.
Monica Wright: Okay, yeah, than I give Jesus the credit for that one. It’s hard to give just one single person the credit for something that obviously God has given me the ability to do. So, that question is kind of a funny one. I never really think about saying that. This interview is different. You’re a different kind of reporter. I can’t normally go there in sports reporting. But with Risen, I guess I can go there.
Before, I would have made a decision that would have been good for me. But now, I want to make decisions that fall under the will of God.
Risen Magazine: Yes, exactly. We want to know the real you.
Monica Wright: Well, there are so many people who have helped me along the way. For everything there is a season, and God has strategically placed people in my life during certain seasons in my life, for a certain purpose. It’s obvious it was God because of how perfect the timing was and what I needed at the time. When I was in college I had a mentor named Rick Bunson who really helped develop my mid-range game, which was good because it helped me have more weapons offensively. I have several people who are walking in this current season with me, developing me into a more spiritual person. I call them when I need to make a big decision and I want it to be a godly decision. Before, I would have made a decision that would have been good for me. But now, I want to make decisions that fall under the will of God. God has given me a multitude of counsel right now in my life.
Risen Magazine: It seems you had a life-transforming encounter with God in college. Tell me about that.
Monica Wright: I grew up Southern Baptist. It’s a part of our culture to go to church. The Southern African-American culture has a certain mindset about church. Church is just what you do on Sunday. You see everybody – your aunts and uncles, and you fellowship. I grew up that way, but I never knew exactly what was in the Bible; I never knew the Word. I never knew how to apply it to my everyday life. I never looked to the Bible for what I needed. So once I got into college in my freshman year, I got into a lot of things, partying and so on. I wasn’t doing those things under my parent’s supervision. Once I got to my fourth year, a pastor approached me from the Church of Christ, and asked me if I wanted to study the Bible. It was perfect timing. Jesus had His hand on me the entire time. I ended up studying the Bible with his wife and that was all there was to it. Once I discovered what was in scripture, that it had been there the entire time, I could not believe it. I couldn’t believe I had been going to church all those years and did not know what was in those scriptures. I had come to the end of myself and I came full circle back around to God.
Risen Magazine: You could have gotten into some dark stuff had you not had that revelation from God in college, right?
Monica Wright: The first two years of college were absolutely crazy. Looking back, there were so many things that were wrong. In my senior year, while walking through campus, I had a question pop into my head that I know was from the Holy Spirit. I hadn’t even started studying the Bible yet, so I know it was God drawing me back to Him. The question was, “What are people going to say about me after I’m gone?” I was challenged with the legacy I was leaving and how I was going to be remembered. It was eerie. It was a question that kept haunting me. And it was only weeks later that that pastor approached me and asked me if I wanted to study the Bible.
Risen Magazine: What a compelling question to be confronted with as only a senior in college. At the time, did you have an answer to that question?
Monica Wright: I believe the answer was in realizing the potential of my legacy. Discovering it was up to me to create that legacy.
Risen Magazine: How did you try to change that legacy?
Monica Wright: During that last year, I believe seeds were planted. If they manifested then, or manifested in 10 years, I had no control over that. All I know is I considered it my job to plant those seeds when I was given the opportunity. Truth always prevails. And whoever knew me then and saw the transformation, I think it spoke volumes about whom I had been, and who I was as a new creation in Christ.
Risen Magazine: Did you experience any persecution after your transformation in college?
Monica Wright: Oh definitely. I had people questioning me immediately. Every Friday and Saturday night I had to deal with it. At times I would hide at the family’s house that I studied the Bible with and watch cartoons with their kids. I knew I would be safe from bad decisions. I would flee to safety. I would flee to Kingdom-people. I guess I wasn’t really hiding. I was running towards shelter where I knew I would be protected. Our hearts are so deceitful and the pull towards the world is strong and forceful, all the while God is wooing you in a still small voice; but the world is shouting. You will be persecuted. It’s a guarantee. But I like to think, that if you are being persecuted, it’s proof that you are doing the right thing.
Risen Magazine: So you feel you were reborn in college?
Monica Wright: Absolutely. I was saved for the first time.
Risen Magazine: What are some of the temptations you face as a WNBA player?
Monica Wright: Being in college my senior year, I would say I was somewhat protected. I was under an average level of spiritual warfare. But coming out from under that protection after college and into the WNBA, I had to start all over and it was a fresh battleground. When I was a senior in college, I had that leadership role, and under classman looked up to me. But right out of college, I was back at the bottom again. I had to prove myself again. I was very quiet and many people didn’t even know I was Christian unless they asked what I was doing on Sunday, and I said I was going to church. Nothing out of my mouth would have led anyone to know I was a Christian. I was silent and felt stuck. I wasn’t able to speak boldly; I didn’t have the power of the Holy Spirit then. It was another form of growing up. There were several times when I didn’t know what to do in the locker room and on the road. In those situations God grew me. But early on, I was completely lost and didn’t know how to lean on God. It was a struggle. I was reminded how long it took Jesus to develop the disciples, three-and-a-half years, before they were ready to go out and spread the Gospel after Jesus died. It kind of took me the same amount of time. But now, after three-and-a-half years, there’s no looking back. I got the power of the Holy Spirit, a sound mind, and no timidity.
Risen Magazine: You’ve said you don’t like to do public service if it’s just for the cameras. How do you like to give back?
Monica Wright: I absolutely embrace being a role model for young women. It’s something that God has given to me as a gift. I embrace it. I love having young girls come to me and feel that their dreams are possible. As far as serving and giving back, for me it’s Spirit-led. It has to be led by the Holy Spirit because the flesh may be capable of doing good, but if it’s not God-led, it’s not God’s will. Of course there are things that the Lynx are doing that I join with because I submit to that authority, but on my own I make sure that my heart is in the right place. If it’s on my heart to do something, then God will give me the grace to do it. Just recently, I’ve been able to reach out to a couple young women that I know, to mentor them, spend time with them, and pour into them. I love to set a good example and I love to be available to answer their questions and spend quality time with them.
Risen Magazine: Were there any sacrifices you made to get to where you’re at?
Monica Wright: Maybe just being a regular kid, especially in high school. When you play competitive sports in high school you’re not a regular kid. You don’t really go to the dances or hang out. You usually have tournaments or practice. But besides that, no larger sacrifices come to mind.
Risen Magazine: How do you handle the accolades you’ve gotten?
Monica Wright: As I’ve matured, I can see now that earthly merit is not what defines success. There are certain things that God will bless us with, but in reality, there are no earthly things that will compare to what God has in store for us in eternity. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy all of it, I enjoy the ride. I think one thing I can take away from it all is to get the lesson He’s trying to teach me in each situation.
Risen Magazine: You’ve played internationally. What are some of your favorite places?
Monica Wright: Australia. I love the beach and the sun. I love Melbourne. I love the animals and seeing what God’s capable of as far as nature. There is a place called The Twelve Apostles that’s an unbelievable scene of twelve pillars of rocks that shoot out of the ocean. God’s footprint is definitely evident in Australia. The animals are so different and the terrain so beautiful. I love the people and I love the culture.
Relationships are a huge stumbling point for girls right now. Society is not really on our side, or on God’s side, in terms of what He believes His daughters to be.
Risen Magazine: What advice would you give about keeping your faith strong in the midst of tremendous odds?
Monica Wright: When you’re in this relationship with Christ and you’re walking in the world, you’re going to sin every day. My advice would be not to be so hard on yourself. We will be our biggest critics. But we have to pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off. Keep running that race that God has called us to run.
Risen Magazine: Have you ever been criticized for your faith?
Monica Wright: Yeah, in my last relationship [with NBA All-Star Kevin Durant], I had to make a decision about compromising myself as a woman. I had to make a decision to leave a relationship, which a lot of people thought I was crazy to leave. There was a lot of criticism over it. But I think God had my back in it. Because I hold to what I know to be true, that is what God will reward instead of what people on the earth think is a good catch.
Risen Magazine: That one decision could send a huge message to young women around the nation.
Monica Wright: And I realize that. Relationships are a huge stumbling point for girls right now. Society is not really on our side, or on God’s side, in terms of what He believes His daughters to be. Society is pumping into our brains what we need to think like, act like, and be like. It doesn’t add up to what God says about us and what He feels about us. We are so valuable to Him. I feel for girls in the younger generations because it’s hard to find that value. Every day could be a battle for them. I don’t even know how they do it.
Risen Magazine: But, YOU did it. You made a decision to end a relationship and you did it on a public stage with much more pressure than most young girls.
Monica Wright: But I’m older. I feel like it’s harder for the younger girls. But if my story can help them in any way, then it was worth it.
Risen Magazine: Is there a next step; the Olympics maybe?
Monica Wright: I daydream about doing the will of God. It doesn’t really matter about what’s next. I feel completely content where I’m at. I’m ready for whatever is next, however I’m not worried or anxious about what that is. I kind of have an idea of what may be next. But I don’t even want to think about it. I just want to stay in the moment and be diligent.
Risen Magazine: Can you share about what you think might be next?
Monica Wright: Uhmmm….it’s still in the works. [Laughs]
Exclusive Interview originally published in Risen Magazine, Fall 2014