Sparks rookie Cameron Brink: 'There's a privilege' for WNBA's younger white players

Discussion of the WNBA has reached a fever pitch this week, and not for entirely positive reasons.

It might have been bound to happen as Caitlin Clark proceeded through the league's most high-profile rookie season, but Chennedy Carter's shoulder has sparked a referendum on the nature of WNBA stardom.

Should the WNBA have given special treatment to Clark because of what she means for the league's finances? Are the WNBA's veterans bitter about Clark's fame? Should the WNBA's players be grateful that the league is getting a long-awaited moment? Is Clark failing to meet expectations? Were Clark's expectations reasonable? Does Clark owe some of her mainstream popularity to being white? What changes if that's true?

The whole thing has turned the discussion around Clark and her fellow WNBA rookies into an online thorn bush, which Los Angeles Sparks rookie Cameron Brink — who was drafted one pick after Clark at No. 2 overall — navigated in an interview with Uproxx's Megan Armstrong published Wednesday.

She started with a realistic evaluation of both how rookies are treated in the WNBA and how they should be expected to play:

"What is the most tired narrative around women’s sports?"

"Oh, that’s a great question. The most tired narrative is that the vets are against the rookies — this old-school versus new-school narrative — and the narrative that the rookies need to be perfect. I feel like Caitlin Clark has that the worst right now, but even I get that. She had three points the other night [against New York on June 2]. I had three points the other night [against Indiana on May 28]. We’re expected to be perfect. We were drafted to high-drafting teams coming off of losing seasons, which is fine. It’s a learning process. But people expect us to be perfect, and it’s freaking exhausting. I feel like we learn how to tune it out, but still, it’s unrealistic, and it kind of just shows that people don’t know basketball."

There were more than a few people who thought Clark would be able to enter the WNBA and keep performing like she did at Iowa, where she averaged 28.4 points per game in her career, was a two-time Wooden Award winner and reached the NCAA championship game twice. Reaching anywhere close to her Iowa numbers would have made Clark one of the best rookies in league history, with a case for MVP.

Instead, the result has looked more like a talented rookie who was immediately given primary ball-handling duties for one of the worst teams in the WNBA and is now trying to get comfortable with a level of play she's never experienced. Her most basic counting stats, the ones you see splashed on social media graphics, make her look like a Rookie of the Year shoo-in: 15.6 points, 6.4 assists and 5.1 rebounds per game. Just under those numbers, however, is a 35.7% field goal percentage and 5.4 turnovers per game, the latter of which leads the league.

Brink, meanwhile, has been more efficient on much lower usage and already looks like a defensive standout, while averaging 8.8 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game.

The two players have been given very different roles in a league where the jump between college and pro is much larger than the NBA due to the different number of teams (30 in the NBA, 12 in the WNBA). The 150th-best NBA player is likely still in a team's rotation, while the 150th-best female player is out of the WNBA, because there are only 144 roster spots. Imagine how NBA rookies would perform if, say, Lu Dort (143rd in the NBA in PER this season) was one of the league's worst players.

Another area where Clark and Brink share some common ground, according to Brink, is being white in a predominantly Black league. Brink said it was her job to help bring acceptance to every player in the league:

"What part do you want to play in [making the WNBA more iconic]?"

"I could go way deeper into this, but I would just say growing the fan base to support all types of players. I will acknowledge there’s a privilege for the younger white players of the league. That’s not always true, but there is a privilege that we have inherently, and the privilege of appearing feminine. Some of my teammates are more masculine. Some of my teammates go by they/them pronouns. I want to bring more acceptance to that and not just have people support us because of the way that we look. I know I can feed into that because I like to dress femininely, but that’s just me. I want everyone to be accepted — not just paid attention to because of how they look."

This is a delicate dance for the WNBA, as bringing in new fans often means appealing to the demographics that have been hesitant to invest any of their time and interest into a group of players that skews more liberal and openly queer than any other league.

Brink has so far proven to be a popular player, with more than 1 million Instagram followers and no shortage of public appearances. Clearly, she's committed to using that influence to be an ally.