The 31-year-old WNBA veteran is ready to return to the court after being cut by the Lynx last season.
For the first time in a long time, Layshia Clarendon enjoyed her summer. Hanging out on the boat with friends, enjoying time with his wife and child, enjoying the days on the lake – Clarendon basking in Oakland all that had to offer. It’s a luxury she hasn’t had since she was in college in Cal. Clarendon’s summer and rest came at a cost, however: They were waived by the Lynx in May, ending their 2022 WNBA season early. The league veteran admitted he was devastated and needed a break from basketball to regroup. (Clarendon uses her, he and they respectively.)
“I’m very grateful for what I got out of a lot of that loss,” says Clarendon, reflecting on the past year.
Minnesota coach Cheryl Reeve cited Clarendon’s health as her reasoning for cutting the guard, citing a lingering injury. Clarendon reveals that she was surprised by Reeve’s public comments, as she felt healthy and ready to compete – even going so far as to contact the team doctor for a copy of her MRI to confirm that nothing was missing on her. Clarendon addressed the confusion in a tweet, writing, “I have received a few requests from the media for comments about the waiver and my injury. I have no opinions except that I am 100% cleared to play and practice. I’m strong and ready to play!”
Clarendon says he wasn’t interested in going into the public back and forth, but he needed to clarify things, especially for teams that were contacting him about potential roster spots. “It was important for me to advocate for myself and set the record straight,” says Clarendon. “I have a right to have a voice and a say in this. And I’m healthy.”
Hungry for more, Clarendon is ready to return to the hardwood with a busy spring ahead. The 5’9″ guard signed a training camp contract with the Sparks in early February amid a flurry of WNBA free agency moves. time for my family,” says Clarendon.
But before Clarendon starts for the Sparks, he will be participating in Athletes Unlimited, a player-centric league in its second season. The five-week campaign ends on February 23 in Dallas, and Clarendon will join WNBA greats like Natasha Cloud, Isabelle Harrison and Courtney Williams in the 44-player tournament. According to Clarendon, the AU opportunity comes at the right time, coinciding with WNBA free agency and before the regular season. “It was always a big question for me to get back on the court professionally when I joined AU. The opportunity that AU provides is better if you are on a WNBA roster,” he says. The league also features a unique points system, collecting players for wins, individual stats and game MVP honors. The four players at the top of the leaderboard are awarded captaincy and have the right to pick their teams for the coming week.
Perhaps the most attractive part of AU—what ultimately drew Clarendon to the league—was its home location. Typically, WNBA players spend the offseason playing overseas, with those contracts cutting into the money athletes can make in the States. However, competing far from home has its drawbacks, with players leaving their families and giving up the opportunity to establish a presence in the WNBA market. As Brittney Griner’s detention in Russia also showed, playing abroad means facing the potential risks of living in a foreign country.
Clarendon really wanted to be a representative, Clarendon considered going abroad this year, but leaving his wife and child was too much to do. “It was so painful to think about doing that, because I don’t want to go and play overseas,” says Clarendon. While the contract still isn’t comparable to the money overseas — Clarendon says her salary starts around $11,000 — Athletes Unlimited is becoming more of a part of the conversation about keeping WNBA players home in the offseason. Priority clause W, which comes into effect partially this year, mandates the return of players from abroad in time for pre-season training, further complicating the athletes’ relationship with playing abroad.
The implementation of a soft salary cap is among the solutions proposed by players such as Clarendon in an attempt to reduce the compensation discrepancy. Currently, the WNBA operates on a hard cap of $1,420,500 for the 2023 season. With little cap space, teams must make tough decisions as they move to fill 12 roster spots. The veteran guard is also one of the WNBA’s many prominent voices advocating for expansion to remedy the problem of painful cuts across the league. “I think the push back should be if we’re not going to have expansion in X years, the roster spots should be expanded,” Clarendon says. “There should be some kind of expansion on the horizon, like as early as 2024.” However, WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert has presented a less ambitious timeline, citing ’25 as a possibility. “We’re in no rush,” Engelbert said at an event in February hosted by Senator Ron Wyden in Oregon. “I’d say two to four years out, I’d like to see at least two teams come into the league and, in the long term, more than that.”
As direct as Clarendon is in discussing issues plaguing the league, the basketball star is perhaps even more outspoken when it comes to social issues. They have already considered how to use their participation in Athletes Unlimited to increase the policies they care most about.
“I’m curious to talk to Beto (O’Rourke), while I’m in Texas,” she says. “I’ve mentioned this to people on the AU board about bringing Beto to a game and leveraging the momentum he’s been building lately.” Clarendon is well aware of the emerging debate surrounding competition in specific markets where anti-LGBTQ laws are being enacted. “There’s a lot going on in Texas,” says Clarendon. “There’s a lot of people fighting here and doing great work and how can we continue to support them and build on the momentum they’ve gained recently.”
As a Black and trans player in women’s sports, Clarendon has long been aware of competition in certain markets, saying it is not new to many people who intersect local politics and sports.
“It’s really something we’ve always had to navigate. You always want to make sure your safety is okay first and foremost,” says Clarendon. “It’s something that we often think about taking our child to a new city and putting them in care where their trans parent is going to show up to pick them up, and they have two moms, and we’re parenting our child that’s extensive gender – and how is that going?”
Clarendon says fellow WNBA players have been eager to learn, even on issues that initially prompt some pushback. Players try to start by “educating ourselves internally first,” according to Clarendon, which is probably why W has emerged so powerfully on a range of social issues. Although Clarendon is one of the most uninhibited players in basketball today, he has begun to share the burden and privilege of leadership with others, revealing that delegating responsibility to others was a big part of his growth and its evolution.
This is a running theme in Clarendon’s life, a vocal champion for himself, but also, very importantly, for others. The WNBA veteran has consistently been outspoken about player rights, social justice and LGBTQ issues. “It’s great, and it’s frustrating, and it’s a terrible gift,” Clarendon says with a laugh, commenting on their innate prejudice. In reality, however, Clarendon’s boldness is rooted in empathy—a visible part of her personality almost immediately after meeting the basketball star. “I think we’re connected to each other as people and that’s how I live my life a lot. I think part of it is ingrained in my personality to care.”
For Clarendon, transparency is an essential part of the connection—and that maxim extends to itself as well. In January 2021, Clarendon made their top surgery experience public, posting about the procedure on social media. “I am feeling free and euphoric in my body and I want trans people to know and see that we have always been there and no one can erase us,” Clarendon wrote in her announcement. As the first openly trans and non-binary player in the WNBA, Clarendon’s voice is vital, but sometimes it’s a concern to use. “There’s always hesitation,” she says, reflecting on her decision to be open about her identity. “It’s always been a process for me that goes beyond what people think or how it will affect my job or my career.”
Showing up as his authentic self for the 2021 season – despite his trepidations – transitioned on the court, with Clarendon helping the Lynx turn around an 0-4 start, averaging 10.4 points and 5.7 assists per game to lift Minnesota to a 22-10 finish. The stats are in line with the numbers she has consistently put up during her decade-long W career. “I can’t magic dunk,” said Clarendon, referring to the myth of transgender athletes’ competitive advantage.
Clarendon’s candidacy has connected her with fans in a unique way – a development that surprised even her. “I didn’t realize there were so many trans people in Minnesota until I actually played there,” Clarendon says. “I had so many transgender people walking up to me all the time. … So I definitely feel that and I appreciate it from people.”
It’s all—going on and off the court, going public with their journey, coming back from an injury, returning to the court after being cut—and taxing, keeping Clarendon back for more. This year could be seen as his phoenix moment rising from the ashes, with plenty to prove, but the 31-year-old does not have a chip on his shoulder – in fact, he sounds so sprightly and broad-. hope as a rookie. So what would a successful 2023 look like for the W vet? For Clarendon, it’s simple: “have fun, be in the moment, be very present.”