LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Sparks have been known to have that fighting spirit this season. That record may not have the best win-loss percentage this season but they are in every game and just never give up. They could be down by double digits early but then these Sparks make a run and make it a game again. In fact, they were in that situation last Saturday against the Atlanta Dream and came back to win.
Layshia Clarendon embodies that aforementioned fighting spirit. In the league since 2013, Clarendon is the first openly non-binary player in the WNBA. As their Twitter account mentions, they use all the pronouns (she/her, he/him, they/them). Layshia has been a longtime advocate for social justice, racial equality, and LGBTQ+ rights. They signed with the Sparks after a year away from the WNBA.
Clarendon has averaged 16.5 points in their last two games, which were both wins. I caught up with Layshia before their game against the Dream about how they ended up in the Sparks and playing multiple positions, among other things.
THE SPORTING TRIBUNE: How are you? How are family and friends?
LAYSHIA CLARENDON: We’re alive and well.
TST: Surprising you weren’t in the league last year. What was the thought process then? Was there a thought of calling it a career? Or were you just going to work hard to get back into the league?
LAYSHIA: No, there was a thought of do I still want to go on this rollercoaster, this volatile industry, as I call it. So there was definitely some questions but ultimately, I decided to give it one more shot.
TST: And you end up here. Any process to it?
LAYSHIA: I definitely wanted to stay closer to home. I have a 2 1/2-year-old. I wanted to be in a good organization because I played for a lot of different ones, some better run than others. I know Coach Curt Miller from my time in Connecticut. I know (Sparks general manager) Karen Bryant from her time in the league. So I just wanted to be part of a good organization.
TST: You played for Curt for two seasons, Any differences you see now compared to what he was in Connecticut.
LAYSHIA: He’s a little less angry than he was in Connecticut.
(We both laugh.)
TST: You’ve been asked to do a lot more here. You played the 1, 2, and 3. How’s that been for you playing all these different positions?
LAYSHIA: It’s been fun. Difficult at times. But ultimately, a really cool challenge and I think it highlights my versatility as a player, how smart I am, my ability to pick things up, and play different positions.
LAYSHIA: Any message I’m sending out there?
LAYSHIA: *laughs* No, no message at all. Just that I play tough that I’m always going to be a player that has respect for the game, has respect for my opponents. It’s never personal. It’s just things are going to get heated and I’m always gonna be a player who shows up and plays tough.
TST: Was being a pro basketball player always the goal?
LAYSHIA: Yeah, it was, actually. And I made it.
TST: There was no alternate job or occupation or anything?
LAYSHIA: Growing up? No. It’s this or bust. I mean, it was more of a dream as a kid. Do you ever really know that you’re going to meet your dream? I think it’s pretty cool to get to this point. There’s a picture of me in fifth grade that I signed in the back and gave to my aunt, Dorothy, and it said, “Keep this forever. ‘Cause one day, you’ll see me in the WNBA on TV.” She still has the photo of me.
TST: Who did you pattern your game after?
LAYSHIA: I’m a big Sue Bird fan. I think everybody knows that. I talked about it very openly. Just her competitiveness, her smarts, her wits. But I would say more like the toughness of a Dawn Staley or that kind of gritty player. A little bit of both of them. Dawn’s before my time but she’s one of the players that I think about and her South Carolina players. I play more physical than Sue does so I feel like a hybrid of those kind of players. Dawn’s obviously one of the smartest point guards to play the game, too, and she’s now a coach.
TST: What else do you think can we do to keep the women’s game growing?
LAYSHIA: Keep covering it. Keep putting pressure on the league to help us better have travel accommodations. Keep pushing the league to streamline the way our games are viewed on television. Nneka was speaking to this but a little more continuity for fans to how fans digest the games. I know they’re trying to be creative and figure it out different ways, I think that’s the cool part of it. But making it easy for fans to be WNBA fans.
TST: Lightning round. Favorite food?
TST: Favorite movie.
LAYSHIA: Inside Out.
TST: Most embarrassing song in your playlist?
LAYSHIA: I don’t think I’m embarrassed at all. Someone will probably laugh at a kid’s song that I sing my heart out to.
TST: Finally, do you want to say something to the LGBTQ community, especially to the ones that struggle with their identity?
LAYSHIA: I love you. You’re not alone. And keep being who you are.
TST: You are a very strong and inspiring individual. Thank you so much for your time!
LAYSHIA: You’re welcome!
Thanks to Layshia Clarendon for talking to us. Layshia and the Los Angeles Sparks will attempt to go for their fourth straight win as they play the Aces in Las Vegas this Saturday.