Megan Rapinoe, Sue Bird and More Athlete Romance Worth Cheering For
Jun 07, 2023
As you sit on your couch cheering on the United States women's national soccer team in their quest for a third consecutive World Cup, just know that a half a world away, Megan Rapinoe is imagining the day she can do the same.
"Whenever I think about retirement and the future," the USWNT and OL Reign forward told Elle Decor in a recent cover story dedicated to her and fiancée Sue Bird's new Manhattan pied-à-terre, "I think about our friends and family sitting on the couch, sharing joy with each other."
That was the reason Bird—who wrapped her final season with the WNBA last year—specifically requested that designer Mark Grattan install a sizable TV across from their custom linen and leather sofa so that once their playing days are behind them, she and Rapinoe can cheer on their friends from the comfort of their own home.
But until then...Let's. F--king. Go.
That was Rapinoe, 2019's Golden Boot and Golden Ball winner, entering the U.S.'s match against Portugal Aug. 1—a draw that vaulted the back-to-back champs into the top 16 and an Aug. 6 date in the knockout round.
And that was Bird, her partner of seven years, cheering her on from the stands while waving homemade signs that proclaimed "one last ride".
Was it a sight to see? Naturally. Are we rooting right along with them? Yep.
And yet Bird—whose own hardware case contains four WNBA trophies and five Olympic gold medals—and Rapinoe aren't the only sporty pair in the throes of an amazing journey. (They're not even the only athletic duo on hand Down Under with Alex Morgan's soccer player husband Servando Carrasco on site with their 3-year-old daughter Charlie.)
Check out just a few of the athletic couples we feel are truly in a league of their own.
When you come out of the gate with a mid-vacation proposal in the Seychelles followed by a wedding in an actual castle in Cheshire, England, well, it starts to feel like there's nowhere left to go but down. But when it comes to his seven-plus year marriage with effervescent pop star Ciara, she of the magical hips, tireless work ethic and the catchy No. 1 singles, all the Seattle Seahawks quarterback does is win. Having landed his dream girl—who gave birth to her third child, son Win in July 2020— "I'm truly grateful every day to get to come home," he told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, "and it puts a smile on my face every time."
He's got four Super Bowl rings and some 93 NFL touchdowns, but the tight end's best catch might just be girlfriend Kostek. "Whatever he does, whatever he wants to pursue, anything that excites him, I'm like, 'Go for it. I got your back,'" the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit cover model told E! News. "And he's the same way with anything. He's watched me on this journey for years as we've been together."Their path, naturally, began on the field, when Gronk asked a teammate to slip his number to the rookie cheerleader at a charity event. And come November they'll mark a decade together. As far as taking their romance into the proverbial end zone, the now-retired football pro says they "definitely talk about" getting engaged. And Kostek is certainly ready for a ring of her own. "If he were to get down on one knee, I'd be excited," she told Us Weekly. "He's my best friend. I would spend the rest of my life with him."
The former Miami Heat guard has hung up his sneaks, but he's still got game and one of the more enviable marriages around. Always able to find the fun (see, for example: the '90s-themed bash Wade threw for the actress' 46th birthday), they do their best not to get bogged down in petty arguments. "He lets me off the hook, and I do the same," she told Glamour. "Is it annoying that he refuses to put the cap back on the toothpaste? Yes. But at the end of the day, I just screw it back on myself. It's give-and-take." And to the star what she reaps is well worth it. Calling her husband "a Nicholas Sparks book exploded into an NBA player" she told E! News, "he's very romantic and a great gift-giver." (Among his best: a surprise first anniversary trip to Bora Bora.) In fact their married life is so "freakishly awesome," Union told E! News, "It's almost kind of embarrassing to talk about."
By the time the Florida native met the Virginia-bred athlete in 2012, they already had the makings of a power couple. Named the Rookie of the Year in the 2011 Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, Upton had long shed her catalog model roots while the baseball pro had won the Pitching Triple Crown, the AL Cy Young Award, the AL Most Valuable Player Award and the Sporting News Player of the Year Award. So he was awash with confidence when he decided to shoot his shot on the set of the MLB 2K12 commercial they were filming, telling his friends he was going to get her number. Only snag, "I had my microphone on and didn't realize," he shared with Us Weekly in 2018. He was slightly mortified that she heard, but as he told the mag, "It worked." Five years later, the couple wed in Italy mere days after he won the World Series with the Astros. As he put it to People, "It's such a crazy dream-come-true moment and two of those happened within a span of a couple days."
"I'm kind of wild, and people are f--king here for it," the two-time World Cup winner joked to InStyle in October 2019, detailing the differences between her and four-time WNBA champion Bird, who's "more private and keeps things close to the vest." Together, though, Seattle's most badass couple make some pretty damn good teammates. A solidified pair since connecting at the 2016 Olympics, the athletes share a knack for winning (jointly, they've amassed the two World Cups, WNBA and NCAA championships and six Olympic gold medals) a passion for activism and a mutual respect. "We have a lot in common and just sort of clicked," Rapinoe told ESPNW in 2017. "I joke she is my No. 1 go-to-for-advice person. She's just so level-headed."
The true MVP of the James household, Brinson was the small forward's teammate long before he was collecting championships with Dwyane Wade and Kyrie Irving. And during that first date to an Akron, Ohio Outback Steakhouse, the cheerleader and softball player had no inkling that the basketball standout from her rival high school would go on to rule the NBA. "I just thought he'd be a hometown hero for his era and it would be over," she told Harper's Bazaar. Fast forward a decade or so, and she and 2003's No. 1 draft pick were marrying at an event so star-studded Beyoncé and Jay Z were on hand to perform their hit "Crazy in Love". Now raising their brood of three at a $23 million mansion in L.A., where James took his talents to the Lakers, "The only reason why I can do what I do at the highest level both on and off the floor is my because my best friend got my back regardless the outcome!" he wrote in a November 2019 tribute. "I'm just the car, she's the engine!"
When the Santa Clara University soccer star accepted a handful of sunflower seeds from a cute guy at a Stanford baseball game back in 2012, she had no clue he was an All-American on the Cardinal's football squad. But their first date to Chipotle is still memorable. "To this day, still one of our favorites," he told Philadelphia Magazine. Two years later, she was selected third by the Chicago Red Stars in the NWSL draft, landing her some 750 miles from where the 2013 second round pick caught passes for the Eagles. Though she was on hand to watch him win a Super Bowl in Minneapolis in 2018 and they've closed the distance slightly now that he's in Arizona and she's on the pitch in L.A., the parents to 11-month-old Madden spend more time chatting through FaceTime than in person. "We always joke that I have a relationship with my phone," she told the mag. "But I think we knew that going in. I don't want to say it makes it easier at all…but we understand."
Remember the time Alexis Ohanian commissioned a series of billboards to be set up in Palm Springs, welcoming wife Serena Williams back to competition following an arduous maternity leave? Or when he swept her off to Venice because she mentioned that some pasta might be nice? "She had a craving, so I delivered," he modestly shared with Glamour. So endlessly supportive, he'd likely be quick to remind you he's the one that scored, being wed to arguably the greatest tennis player in the world and the GMOAT (that'd be the Greatest Momma of All Time) to their 5-year-old daughter Alexis. But what makes him the perfect love match for the athlete, currently expecting their second child, has little to do with his sweeping gestures. "You have to show up," he wrote in his Glamour essay. "You have to be supportive. These are the things that matter."
You get a ring...and you get a ring! At least that was the sitch when the 2020 Super Bowl MVP went to pick up his new that September. Filling a suite at Kansas City's Arrowhead Stadium with hundreds of white roses and a marquee spelling out his proposal, he left his high school sweetheart gushing, "My heart is so full! I love this man so incredibly much and today was so so special! Couldn't imagine this day being any more perfect!"They've had a few more since then, the parents to 2-year-old daughter Sterling marrying in Hawaii in March 2022, eight months before baby Bronze, joined the team. "She's my rock," the two-time Super Bowl champ told E! News of the Kansas City Current co-owner he met while slinging the football at Texas' White House High School. "She's the one that, through tough times, can get me through."
Back in 2008 when the New Orleans Pelicans guard was a stand-out freshman at UCLA, an autograph seeker approached him at a women's basketball game, thinking he was his teammate Darren Collison. Witnessing the whole exchange, Lauren, a member of the Bruins soccer team, chimed in, "Don't worry, you're cuter than Darren." It's a decidedly adorable meet-cute, but the rest of their love story is even better. Retired from the national women's team, the World Cup champ and two-time gold medalist was nearly five months pregnant when she learned she had a brain tumor. Without thought, Jrue took a months-long sabbatical from his NBA gig in 2016 to be at his bride's side until the meningioma was successfully removed. Now a devoted father to their daughter Drue and son Hendrix, "You show us everyday what unconditional love looks like," Lauren wrote in a Father's Day tribute. You show up for us on your best and your worst days and it never feels like you give us any less."
Coming of age in the nineties just down the interstate from each other in California, both Morgan and Carrasco were big names in the soccer world when they landed at University of California, Berkeley in 2007. Standouts on their respective teams (Carrasco served as co-captain; Morgan finished her career ranked third all-time in goals scored and points for the Cal Golden Bears), it just made sense for king and queen of the pitch to be together. More than a decade on, the L.A. Galaxy midfielder has watched in awe as his wife, now mom to 3-year-old daughter Charlie, has, quite simply, ruled. "She's a badass woman," he marveled to MLSsoccer.com before she nabbed her second World Cup. "When my nieces talk to her and they look up to her, that's as good as it gets. I mean, the soccer stuff, yeah, for sure, cool. But to see her on the '100 Most Influential in the World' in Time magazine? I'm like, damn. She's making a difference."
When the Houston Texan's standout defensive end wed the soccer forward in the Bahamas in February 2020, he took a moment to remind everyone just how much he'd scored, popping his color to show the "Mr. Kealia Watt" embroidered underneath. It was a fitting callback to the time he took Houston's ABC affiliate to task for referring to the athlete simply as J.J. Watt's fiancée in a story about her trade to the Chicago Red Stars. "This headline is trash," he wrote in a tweet. "Kealia Ohai (which is her name by the way, since you didn't even bother to mention it) is incredible entirely on her own merit and deserves to be treated as such." He certainly does, the five-time pro bowler admitting to People, "We're very competitive. Very, very competitive and we like to workout together. She's much faster than me, [while] I'm slightly stronger." But the duo—introduced by Watt's former teammate Brian Cushing, who's wed to Ohai's sister Megan, a former USC soccer player—aren't all work and no play. Continued Watt, "We have a lot of fun together."
Hard to believe the two-time NBA MVP failed to connect on his initial move with now-wife Ayesha. But when the then-Davidson College standout went in for a kiss during a hang with his former youth group pal, she ducked. Thankfully, "We had a do-over!" she told told E! News in 2017. And a few years after that first kiss in his parents' driveway back in their hometown of Charlotte, he proposed in that very spot. "Yeah, it was like The Notebook," he told Parents. When they discovered months after their 2011 vows they were expecting their first child—future press conference scene-stealer Riley—Ayesha worried she'd never fully find her professional footing. But nearly a decade, two more kids and an entire lifestyle empire later, she's done just fine, her list of titles including cookbook author, Food Network personality, model and philanthropist. Just don't saddle her with the term "basketball wife." As she shrewdly pointed out to ABC News, "I mean, I don't think my husband would call himself 'chef's wife.'"
When the soccer stars first connected at a U.S. Women's National Soccer Team camp in 2010, "It was definitely for me like a love-at-first-sight type of thing," goalkeeper Harris told Sports Illustrated. Whenever they were afforded free time, "We would sit and have really long conversations and talk about our hopes and dreams and what we wanted to accomplish," she said. "We were just so infatuated with each other, and all of our goals aligned. I just felt like it was so effortless." Her wife, agrees, noting how captivated she was by Harris' easy confidence. "I think I was more myself when I hung out with her, and that's when I knew she would become someone important in my life." It took some nine years for them to make it to the altar in December 2019, but it was well worth the wait, the Miami bash, officiated by Leroux, with Rapinoe as maid of honor, coming just five months after the Orlando Pride teammates' joint World Cup win. "I don't know if we can top 2019," defender Krieger admitted, "but we're going to try."Cut to them welcoming daughter Sloane in early 2021. "It's a feeling you can't describe," Krieger told E! News. "I understand why moms will do anything for their children. Everyone says, ‘You'll understand one day when you have a child,' and now we do."Megan RapinoeSue BirdMark GrattanAlex MorganServando CarrascoCharlieWinNicholas SparksKyrie IrvingBeyoncéJay ZMaddenAlexis OhanianSerena WilliamsAlexisSterlingBronzeDarren CollisonDrue HendrixCharlieBrian CushingRileySloane