Shavonte Zellous stood outside the Liberty’s locker room, a Sharpie in one hand and a new pair of sneakers in the other.
As she said she has done with every sneaker she has worn in a WNBA game, she wrote “Orlando” and “LGBT” on the Nike Swoosh.
“I always have to rep,” she said.
Those inscriptions carried more meaning than usual Tuesday night, when the Liberty defeated the Dallas Wings, 91-88, at the Garden.
Zellous, 29, is gay. She went to Jones High School in Orlando, just a few minutes away from Pulse, an LGBTQ nightclub where a gunman killed 49 people Sunday morning.
“The LGBTQ community awoke with the very real and very present feeling that this could happen to any one of them,” she wrote earlier Tuesday on the Player’s Tribune. “The gunman . . . stole something from the entire LGBTQ community. Where can we go that’s still free — that allows us to be ourselves without fear?”
Adding to Zellous’ connection was that her sister Mina, 24, goes regularly to Pulse.
Mina was not at Pulse that night, though she had made plans to meet three friends there. Her boss called and asked her to work a 6 a.m. shift Sunday, Zellous said. Mina went home to sleep.
Zellous was unaware her sister was safe when she learned the gravity of the situation Sunday morning, after the Liberty’s flight home from San Antonio. Her calls went to voicemail. A Snapchat message that read, “Yo, call me,” went unreturned.
Seconds led into minutes, and Zellous’ angst grew into overwhelming concern.
After 10 or 15 minutes — Zellous lost track of time — Mina returned her sister’s calls and told her story. Two of Mina’s friends were among the dead. “The other,” Zellous told reporters, “is fighting for his life right now.”
“By the grace of God, (Mina) was saved,” said Zellous, who scored nine points against Dallas Tuesday night. “I could have been those family members getting those calls that either she was in critical condition or passed away. It was devastating. It was just crazy.”
That Zellous expressed her story and concern publicly did not surprise teammate Tina Charles, who said she recruited the veteran to New York during free agency this winter because of her vocal leadership.
“She always used her voice,” said Charles, who had a game-high 28 points. “She’s one of those people that once you stand for something you stand for it all the time.”