Catching Up with … out Atlanta Dream point guard Layshia Clarendon

Atlanta Dream point guard Layshia Clarendon, a native of San Bernadino, California, said she was born with a basketball in her hand. She followed in her sister’s footsteps and has been dribbling as long as she can remember.

“I think I played in my first league game when I was 6,” she said. “I played in a lot of co-ed leagues. They never passed me the ball, so my dad was like, once you get it you have to take it and not give it back.”

After playing college ball at University of California-Berkeley, Clarendon was picked up by the WNBA team Indiana Fever, where she played for several years before being traded to the Dream last year.

Now a point guard in her second season in Atlanta, Clarendon just signed a three-year contract extension securing her position on the team — and in the city’s LGBT community — for this season and two more.

What was it like coming to Atlanta from Indianapolis? How were you able to grow as a player?

It’s a big city, so that’s been a really big difference coming from Indiana. Atlanta’s huge and it’s actually one of the places I’d never visited. I played some in the WNBA against Atlanta, but I’d never been here on my own.

The style of basketball that Atlanta plays is really up-tempo and I really like it. We’re really a more defensive oriented team. We want to get a lot of shots up. It’s a different style of shots than Indiana, which was more gridded out defensively and offensively.

I play the point guard, which I think is the hardest position to play. I think I’m not being biased — I think a lot of people would agree. It’s the person who usually gets blamed for everything and has to control the pace and the tempo of the game. … You’re like, “I’m being guarded too and trying to do all these things at once.” You’re just kind of a general floor leader and it’s a position you have to have a lot of poise to be good at.

Outside of basketball, the diversity and the culture and the food is amazing.

So your second season just started. What are you most excited about?

I was really excited to come to camp and being settled. Finally getting off the rookie contract was nice. It was nice to kind of come back and not have the stress of, “Am I going to be traded again?” I could take a deep breath and know what was coming, and I know my teammates really well. The coaches and the staff really believe in me and I’m a lot excited to be a leader on the team this year.

Now that you’re in Hotlanta, how have you been active in the LGBT community here?

I’m just getting my feet wet with Atlanta. Getting traded here last year was really difficult. We had the Pride game last year, but we didn’t do a ton of events around it. I’ve talked with some of the Pride organizations in Atlanta to se where I can get involved and get connected. So far, it’s trying to find my footing.

The Dream isn’t the only Atlanta team with a history of hosting Pride nights — the Hawks had a Unity Night last fall and the Braves have one this month. What do you think about the increased show of support from professional teams to their LGBT fans?

I think it’s amazing. I think, especially for the men’s side to start doing it — the women have oftentimes led the movement and have been more accepting — to see the MLB get on board and the NBA start to get on board is really important, because it matters on both sides of the gender spectrum.

Hopefully we can start to break down a lot of those barriers and homophobia that exist in sports.

How receptive do you think the WNBA is to accepting out athletes?

I think it depends on when you ask that question. I think that today, they’re doing a good job.

We have a new president with Lisa Borders, and we’re doing a much better job at being more inclusive overall. I think that’s more reflective of society as well, and we’re moving in the right direction. Historically, it’s been really hard.

What was the process like for you coming out as an athlete?

I was pretty out at Cal, when I went to Berkeley. That’s a pretty easy place to be out. It’s the hippie, peace-and-love Mecca.

As do a lot of people, I came out in layers. It’s not always like this one-time thing where you come out and everybody knows. A lot of people come out to different people in their lives. I came out to my brother first, then my sister before my parents; then my mom and dad. He really struggled with it. Once I was out to my family, that was the most difficult part.

Do you have any advice for younger LGBT athletes, who may be struggling with the decision to come out?

It’s hard. I would say to make sure that you have a safe place to do it, because sometimes the LGBT community people can be kind of pushy. It’s not always safe to [come out] if your home life is threatened or if your parents are going to kick you out or if there’s a threat of physical violence. Do it on your own time.

My other advice would just be, you’re not alone. That’s why I’m a big role model and advocate. I’m here. I’m alive. I’m out, and I’m successful, and you can be too. If they do come out, whether they choose to or not, there’s people here fighting for them.

Atlanta Dream Pride Night
Friday, June 23 at 7:30 p.m.
McCamish Pavilion at Georgia Tech