Because there are out WNBA players
Minnesota lynx basketball star Seimone Augustus is, by all means, a homebody, but something told her to go out to a Minneapolis bar one night. After a few moments of quietly nursing a drink, she locked eyes with someone across the room. But this 6-foot-tall guard, the toast of Louisiana State University’s basketball program, a number 1 WNBA draft pick, and an Olympian, was too shy to even muster up a simple “hello.”
Fortunately, fate didn’t allow these two ships to pass in the night, and five years after their first date at a local Six Flags theme park, Augustus is getting married—to a woman. She says her future nuptials with LaTaya Varner encouraged her to come out publicly as a lesbian, and the two are planning a summer wedding. Not this summer, though. The 28-year-old is concentrating on finishing her season in the Russian women’s basketball league, a two-peat of the WNBA league title, and bringing home the gold this summer from the London Olympics.
Augustus has been through a lot between her 2008 and 2012 gold-medal attempts on Team USA. After the last Olympic games, Augustus’s hopes for a WNBA title were cut short after she suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in June 2009. She was forced to sit out for the rest of the season, with plans for a comeback in 2010. Her hopes were dashed again, however, when she learned she had fibroids and needed surgery to have them removed. She said having two health problems in the same year required her to become conscious of her healing and avoiding re-injury.
“When you come back from an ACL injury you always think about the way you tore your knee,” she says. “When I did it, I was making a play to the basket, so you always think about the context in which you injured yourself.”
Good things happened in 2010 too: Four years after graduating from Louisiana State, Augustus became the first female athlete at her alma mater to have a jersey retired. It’s a great honor for athletes, especially at LSU, where only eight other jerseys have been retired, including Shaquille O’Neal’s.
With setbacks and triumphs behind her, Augustus came back to the 2011 season, her sixth with the Minnesota Lynx, more focused and ready to win. During the off-season, with the encouragement of head coach Cheryl Reeve, Augustus started thinking about her career legacy. It also didn’t hurt that it was clear she was on a championship team.
“The situation with the team panned out perfectly,” she says. “We got a great draft pick in Maya Moore, and some other veteran players and free agents, so it was just fitting that we came back to the season as a powerhouse-type team.”
Augustus led the Lynx to its first WNBA championship over the Atlanta Dream and was named the WNBA Finals MVP. But even with the notoriety, Augustus, like several other professional women’s basketball players, still plays in leagues overseas to, as she says, simply live comfortably. She previously played in Turkey and now is on courts in Russia, but Augustus says the league must do more to offer women players the same kind of financial stability their male counterparts in the NBA get. Still, she admits playing overseas has better prepared her to compete on Team USA against the world’s best during the Olympic games.
“Every country is out to beat Team USA,” she says from her hotel room in Russia. “If they beat us, it makes their year, it makes their life, it makes their career. I have Russian teammates that I played against in 2006, when they beat us in the World Championships, and they still talk about that now. So beating Team USA is everything to the other countries because we set such high standards for ourselves.” —Michelle Garcia