News, Politics, and Culture from 14895

By Lacey Gardner

What will be Caitlin Clark’s fate in the WNBA?

Share:

A column by CHUCK POLLOCK, Sun Senior Columnist

Back in early March, when Caitlin Clark’s career scoring exploits almost overshadowed her University of Iowa’s bid for the NCAA’s Women’s Basketball national championship, I offered her a bit of unsolicited advice in a column.

She was selling out arenas everywhere the Hawkeyes played, let alone her home court, 15,000-seat Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

My suggestion was this.

Since the 6-foot guard had a year of eligibility remaining, courtesy of Covid, she should utilize it as last season she was making $3.1 million in Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) money, the most of any female athlete in the country, and it was sure to go up with an extra year.

In addition, that fifth season would provide an extra boost to the increasing popularity of women’s basketball which she had already kick-started.

It was consensus that Clark would be the No. 1 pick in the 2024 WNBA Draft, locking her into a $77,000, 40-game rookie-season contract plus any endorsements she could earn … which would figure to be substantial.

CLEARLY,  she opted for pro basketball and was gobbled up by the Indiana Fever, the league’s worst team a year ago.

But the sting of being part of a rebuild in the 12-team circuit was doused when she signed an 8-year, $28 million contract with Nike.

Obviously, she made the right choice.

Yet the celebration was tempered by the predictable backlash based on race.

The WNBA is 64% Black or African-American, 19% white and the other 17% are multiple races.

The issue is, that besides Clark, the only other league players who have their own shoe brand are Breanna Stewart, Elena Delle Donne and Sabrina Ionescu, all of them white.

It’s become a disparity that few say out loud.

The irony is that the WNBA’s players of color are, for the most part, extraordinary athletes, yet few of them come close to the endorsements received by their higher profile white counterparts.

And that’s what makes Clark so interesting.

She’s not really a great athlete.

Rather, Clark’s an exceptional shooter, especially from beyond the arc, a playmaker supreme and with a basketball IQ off the charts.

Does that translate to being a star as a pro?

Maybe, but surely she’ll be among the league’s upper level players. 

SHE BROUGHT the star power from her college days where, during the NCAAs, Iowa produced the biggest TV viewership in women’s collegiate hoops history.

Indeed, the Hawkeyes’ loss to undefeated South Carolina in the NCAA championship game drew over 18.5 million TV viewers, four million more than UConn and Purdue did in the men’s final.

In Clark’s preseason pro debut 13,000 showed up and in her first regulation game at Connecticut, a 92-71 loss, an audience of over two million tuned in, the largest TV viewership for a WNBA game in two decades.

In the loss to Connecticut, she had 20 points but 10 turnovers, however in the home opener, she had a much better line as 17,000 showed up to see her score nine points with seven boards, six assists and only three giveaways.

And even this early in the season, the league is feeling the Caitlin Clout.

Three teams have already moved their home games against the Fever to bigger venues and another is trying.

The Atlanta Dream, with the WNBA’s smallest building at 3,500 seats, will play Indiana in the NBA Hawks’ 17,000 State Farm Arena.

The Las Vegas Aces, two-time defending league champion, will not meet the Fever in it’s 12,000-capacity Michelob Arena but rather at the 18,000-seat T-Mobile Arena.

And the Washington Mystics will desert their 4,200-seat Entertainment & Sports facility when Clark comes to town and play in the 20,000-seat Capital One Arena.

Chicago Sky fans wanted to switch the venue for the Indiana game at the 10,000 seat Wintrust facility to the United Center, which seats twice as many, though a concert is booked that night. Currently, the search is on for another venue.

The question is, how long will Clark be a draw?

There’s a reason she was picked first overall by the Fever … they were 13-27 last season, earning them that right. Will fans keep turning out, or viewers tuning in, to see a bad team albeit with an extremely popular player?

The shelf-life of that combination won’t be very long if the answer is no.

But it sure will be interesting to see how that unfolds.

(Chuck Pollock, a Wellsville Sun senior sports columnist, can be reached at cpollock@wnynet.net.)

Previous Article

Don’t miss this week at Giant Food Mart in Wellsville and Cuba!

Next Article

School board candidate William Benz letter to Wellsville School District voters

You may also like