Caitlin Clark, Cameron Brink, And Rickea Jackson Illuminated The WNBA’s Bright Future In A Historic LA Showdown

It’s cliche to wax poetic about a generational athlete’s impact, but it’s never cliche to whomever experiences it. This group of 11-year-old girls just proved as much with their pure, shrieking laughter at a decibel unique to preteens. They cannot fathom that Los Angeles Sparks’ rookie No. 2 overall pick Cameron Brink, casually sitting across the court during pregame warmups, acknowledged their existence. “She waved! Guys, I’m gonna cry,” one girl frantically blurts to her Genesis basketball teammates. Brink is also tickled, beaming and giggling, almost as if she’s grasping the power she wields in real time. Three of the girls are wearing 2024 WNBA No. 1 overall pick Caitlin Clark’s No. 22 — two Iowa Hawkeyes jerseys, one Indiana Fever jersey — and all of them traveled two-and-a-half hours from Temecula, California to Los Angeles’ sold-out Arena for the Fever’s (1-5) 78-73 win over the Sparks (1-3) on Friday night, May 24.

Firsts defined the night. After an excruciating 0-5 stretch to the season, Clark snagged her first WNBA win. Brink and Rickea Jackson, the Sparks’ 2024 fourth overall pick, enjoyed their first home game at Arena. Brink and Clark faced off for the first time — each earning the loudest, most visceral cheers of any player on their respective teams throughout the night from a Sparks’ franchise-record home crowd of 19,103 fans.

Coming into Friday, Brink led the WNBA in blocks per game and had mostly flashed her monstrous defensive potential, but the reigning Pac-12 Women’s Player Of The Year and Defensive Player Of The Year started the most-hyped game of her rookie campaign aggressively and creatively, scoring six of the Sparks’ first 10 points on 3-of-4 shooting. Before the game, Sparks head coach Curt Miller lauded the former Stanford standout as “a sponge” and “an unselfish superstar” who “brings a great lightness” to the team. That was evident in the second quarter. Despite getting into early foul trouble, Brink never lost enthusiasm on the bench — giddily jumping and screaming to celebrate a deep Jackson three. Dearica Hamby’s 18 points, 12 rebounds, and seven assists led LA, but Brink and Jackson were right behind her. Brink posted career-highs in points (15) and rebounds (nine), tacking on two blocks and two steals for good measure, and Jackson was often the glue that held a fickle Sparks offense together, scoring a career-high 16 off the bench.

The Sparks controlled the first half, taking a 45-34 lead into the locker room. Clark failed to hit any of her first-half three-point attempts, as she was guarded tough by All-Star Layshia Clarendon and 2023 No. 10 overall pick Zia Cooke, but the Fever flipped the script with an 11-0 run to open the third quarter. Metaphorically, oxygen disappeared in Arena every time Clark pulled up from deep, and in its place floated a palpable desperation to witness what Clark developed into a pop cultural phenomenon during a record-obliterating Iowa Hawkeyes tenure. Brink, meanwhile, sat idle on the bench for most of the third quarter due to four personal fouls.

A huge swath of the second half felt, in some abstract way, emblematic of all the W’s minted stars paving the way for Brink, Clark, and Jackson to relish a culmination.

Fever 2023 No. 1 overall pick and reigning Rookie Of The Year Aliyah Boston and British breakout and EuroCup champion Temi Fagbenle had their best outings of the young season with 17 points apiece, generating chemistry with Clark, who finished with 11 points, 10 rebounds, eight assists, and four steals. For the Sparks, Dearica Hamby — an All-Star, WNBA champion, and Sixth Woman Of The Year — led the way with 18 points, 12 rebounds, and seven assists. Indiana 2018 No. 2 overall pick Kelsey Mitchell boosted the Fever’s comeback with nine-straight points in a fourth quarter that featured one tie and three lead changes.

Then, it finally happened. Clark swished a 33-foot three, and pandemonium erupted. A sigh of relief, a promise fulfilled. Clark emphatically high-fived a courtside Ashton Kutcher, whom she described to Uproxx after the game as “a fellow Hawkeye [who] has been very supportive of me” and “was encouraging me the whole game.” Brink wasn’t interested in Clark’s Hollywood ending, however, recapturing her early rhythm to dominate the final quarter with nine points, three rebounds, one assist, one steal, and one blocked Clark shot. Clark got the last laugh, for now, burying an ice-cold dagger from 29 feet out with 40 seconds left to put the Fever up 76-71 — one possession after a Brink three-pointer pulled the Sparks closer — and introduced her expressive, unbridled cockiness to the W.

“I feel like I’ve felt pretty comfortable over the course of the last three or four [games], just playing with a different energy about myself and confidence,” Clark told Uproxx. “Just trying to remind myself it’s not all about the scoring, it’s not all about the shots going in. How am I gonna impact the game in other ways?”

In LA on Friday night, Brink, Clark, and Jackson answered Clark’s question — representing a 2024 draft class already impacting the game in innumerable ways. They embodied hope, oozed charisma, and showed they’re among the best in the world at what they do.

“It’s great for our game — not only this rookie class, but a lot of new eyes [are] on some of the superstars of our game that should be known worldwide and now are getting even more exposure,” Sparks head coach Curt Miller said, later adding, “I’ll paraphrase Candace Parker: Time will tell the story. They don’t have to shout out their own stories. Time will tell.”

It’s patronizing to characterize women in this league as anything other than world-class competitors, so, yes, the bottom line is the Fever won, and Sparks lost.

But is that really why anyone loves sports?

Why the likes of Cheryl Miller, Jason Sudeikis, Aubrey Plaza, Christen Press, Tobin Heath, Klay Thompson, and DeMar DeRozan were the most famous of the entranced and invested?

Why Aliyah Boston couldn’t leave the court without taking several selfies?

Is that why seven-year-old Dimitri, Kutcher and Mila Kunis’ son, wore a black Iowa Hawkeyes hoodie and couldn’t stop dancing in his chair?

Why nine-year-old Wyatt, Kutcher and Kunis’ daughter, couldn’t hold back her joyful tears after Clark came over to pose for a picture?

“Was that cool?” Kunis asked Wyatt, left in the trail of Clark’s pixie dust.

“Nights like tonight just remind me of why I love playing basketball and why I started playing basketball because you get a win, and then you walk off the floor, [and] there’s so many young kids just screaming your name and love getting to watch you,” Clark said. “I think it’s the little things that remind me every single day why I do this.”

This was a special night because it was the first; it mattered because it signified the start of a boundless future full of life-changing little moments.