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Saturday, July 13, 2024

The Caitlin Clark hate is already played out

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The whispers started early. Could her college dominance translate to the pros? Is her style too flashy for the WNBA? Is she more hype than substance?

Caitlin Clark, the Indiana Fever’s prized rookie, has faced a chorus of doubts since stepping onto the hardwood. But for those watching closely, it’s clear that Clark isn’t just silencing the critics — she’s redefining the game.

Let’s be real: the WNBA is a different beast than college ball. The pace is different, the competition fiercer and the spotlight brighter. Rookies often struggle to find their footing. This is what Phoenix Mercury guard Diana Taurasi was trying to convey prior to Clark entering the league. Despite this, Clark embraced the challenge with a fire in her eyes that was impossible to ignore.

Her stats may not be eye-popping yet, but her impact is undeniable. Home games at Gainbridge Fieldhouse are electric with sellout crowds roaring their approval. Fever merchandise is flying off the shelves. And perhaps most importantly, a new generation of young girls in Indiana (and across the globe) are seeing themselves represented on the court — a fearless competitor who plays with joy and grit despite the naysayers.

Clark’s influence isn’t limited to the Hoosier State. National broadcasts featuring the Fever, slated for 36 showings, have had a massive uptick in viewership. Social media is abuzz with her highlight reels as well as her turnovers. She’s injecting excitement and energy into the entire WNBA, drawing in new fans and re-energizing longtime, casual supporters.

Indiana Fever guards Caitlin Clark, left, and Erica Wheeler celebrating after Clark's big basket to take the lead during their game against the Connecticut Sun on May 20 2024. (Photo/David Dixon)
Indiana Fever guards Caitlin Clark, left, and Erica Wheeler celebrating after Clark’s big basket to take the lead during their game against the Connecticut Sun on May 20 2024. (Photo/David Dixon)

Only one-third of the 2024 WNBA season has been played at the time of this writing. However, the numbers already speak for themselves. The May 14 opening night matchup between the Indiana Fever and the Connecticut Sun averaged 2.12 million viewers across ESPN2, ESPN+, and Disney+. It peaked at 2.34 million viewers, making it the most-watched WNBA game on Disney platforms ever. Viewership for WNBA Countdown is up 211% compared to last season.

The most-viewed WNBA game ever aired on ION was the match between the Indiana Fever and the Los Angeles Sparks, which had an average of 724,000 viewers on May 24. ION’s average WNBA game viewership has increased by 51% in households, comparing Weeks 1-3 of the 2023 season to those of the 2024 season.

The Los Angeles Sparks vs. the Indiana Fever, which aired on May 28, averaged 356,000 viewers, making it the most-viewed WNBA game on NBA TV ever. This record would be broken a week later by the Fever at Liberty game on June 2, averaging 430,000 viewers, making it the most-viewed WNBA game on NBA TV ever.

WNBAstore.com has set the record for the most single-season sales in store history, with overall transactions up 756% compared to the same timelast year. The month of May also set an all-time high for WNBA League Pass subscriptions with a 335% increase compared to last season.

Hilariously, the people praying for Clark’s failure are wagering their hard-earned dollars on her, with Fanduel Sportsbook reporting a 415% increase on WNBA bets compared to the season prior.

The Fever versus Washington Mystics game on June 7 hosted 20,333 fans, the most in a WNBA game in the last 17 years. For context, the teams’ combined record was 3-20 at the time of the contest.

On June 16, the Fever matched up against Angel Reese, Kamilla Cardoso and the Chicago Sky. Clark and company defeated the Sky 91-83 in the most watched WNBA game in the last 23 years.

WNBA players arguing during a game.
Seattle Storm guard Victoria Vivians, left, and Indiana Fever guard Caitlin Clark (22) exchange words after making contact with one another during the first half of a WNBA basketball game Thursday, May 30, 2024, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)

Are you noticing a pattern? I wonder who was the driving forcefor all of these increases…?

Despite this, it’s not just about the numbers. It’s about the intangibles. Clark’s infectious enthusiasm, her willingness to learn and adapt and her commitment to community engagement make her a role model for athletes of all ages. Whether it’s visiting local schools or partnering with charities, she’s demonstrating that being a professional athlete is about more than just winning games.

Of course, there’s room for improvement. Clark, like any rookie, has areas of her game that need refining. But let’s give her the space and time to grow. Let’s remember that even legends like Taurasi, Sheryl Swoopes, Tamika Catchings and Sue Bird weren’t overnight sensations.

So, to the skeptics and cynics, I ask of you all this: Give Caitlin Clark an honest chance. Give all of the WNBA rookies a fighting chance.

Give Caitlin Clark some legitimate grace. She’s not just a basketball player; she’s a rising role model who has been blessed (or cursed, depending on who you ask) with uplifting the Fever, the WNBA and the dreams of countless young athletes. And I, for one, can’t wait to see where this wave of ‘Ponytail Pete’ takes us.

Contact multi-media and senior sports reporter Noral Parham III at 317-762-7845. Follow him on X @3Noral.

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