She was nervous and scared and determined.
That is what Liberty guard Shavonte Zellous remembers about the day about 10 years ago when she decided to tell her mother she was gay.
Zellous was in school in Pittsburgh, and she did it on the phone.
“I didn’t know how she would take it,” Zellous, 30, recalled after a team practice on Monday. “I come from a religious background. But it went well. She was more disappointed that she was one of the last people I came to. She said, ‘I’m always going to love you. You’re always my daughter.’ ”
Zellous knows that not all members of the LGBT community have parents as supportive as her mother has been, which is one of the biggest reasons she is thrilled the Liberty is stepping up its participation in Pride Weekend.
The Liberty will hold its annual Pride Night game at Madison Square Garden tonight when it hosts the Connecticut Sun. On Sunday, it will enter a float in the LGBT Pride March down Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, making it the first professional sports team to have a float in the parade. The NBA and WNBA also have a float in the parade.
“Everyone is excited, especially me,” Zellous said. “This is not just for us. This is for the people who are struggling, who don’t know themselves or can’t come out because of the people they hang out with. It’s important to see professional athletes out there supporting a cause like this.”
Zellous, who signed with the Liberty as a free agent before the 2016 season, has been taking more of a leadership role on and off the court this year.
The outlook was not particularly good heading into June. The team had dropped two straight games and was losing stars Epiphanny Prince and Kia Vaughn to European national team duty for the 2017 EuroBasket Women’s Tournament. But the 5-10 guard has played a pivotal role in the Liberty’s recent 5-1 run.
Zellous, one of the oldest players on the team, also is one of the most vocal on the court, but she doesn’t just talk a good game. She has scored in double figures in six straight games, averaging 20 points in that span. She has had three games of more than 20 points, including 28 in last Friday’s win over the Dallas Wings, when she hit the tying shot at the end of regulation.
Liberty associate coach Katie Smith was Zellous’ teammate in Detroit when Zellous first came into the league, and she said she has transformed herself into an impact player.
“She’s been a very steady presence for us,” Smith said. “She can handle the basketball under pressure. She knocks down big shots. She’s a big girl who can rebound. She can guard anyone in the gym. It’s just that mindset she has: ‘Whatever I got to do to get a stop or whatever I have to do to get a win,’ she’s going to do it.”
She also believes in being a vocal community leader. Zellous, Smith and teammate Amanda Zahui B. recently visited a community center and shelter for LGBT youth, some of whom had become homeless because their families could not accept their sexual orientation.
“I think we felt they gave as much to us as we did to them,” Zahui B. said. “You know, we get upset because we miss a layup. But there are kids out there who are homeless because of someone they love. That’s crazy.”
It’s those kids that Zellous will be thinking of as she rides down Fifth Avenue on the Liberty float on Sunday.
Said Zellous: “I think politically we have a platform where we can speak our minds, and that’s important. We can show up and come out and help people. That’s important.”