The WNBA and the Caitlin Clark effect

The NBA Finals is just getting started and we are weeks away from either Luka Doncic or Jayson Tatum winning their first NBA championship. Still, the most talked about basketball player on the planet right now is Caitlin Clark.

The WNBA has increased in popularity at an unprecedented rate basically overnight, thanks largely to one player. Just over ten games into her career, it is safe to say Clark is already the most polarizing and iconic player in the WNBA. She is not the best player in the league, but she is undoubtedly the reason for its recent success.

Clark’s Indiana Fever jersey sold out in record time on draft night, and the second batch of pre-orders, which won’t be ready to ship until August, is nearly sold out as well, with only XS and 2XL sizes still available. WNBA viewership has increased by over 300 percent since she was selected number one overall in April.

Despite all the fanfare and outside support, it have not been all flowers early in Clark’s career. It has become increasingly clear that some of the WNBA veterans are not particularly happy about her being the league’s poster child and having the ability to immediately collect on a $28 million Nike deal.

She is the fans’ darling, whom the rest of the league’s players envy.

“I don’t really hear the noise. I just come here and play basketball every single day, and that is what I focus on, and this is my job. Everything else, all the external noise doesn’t phase me,” said Clark.

Clark is everything the WNBA needed and has long been searching for. She is the type of player who creates buzz without any need for promotion and instantly became the face of women’s hoops. The fact that fellow players view her as the enemy rather than a hero only helps the WNBA product and brand as a whole.

Indiana Fever guard Caitlin Clark. Photo credit: Carlos Jones/News4usonline

Clark’s basketball story has only just begun, but she is already in the middle of a high-profile rivalry with her draft classmate and Chicago Sky rookie, Angel Reese. The two met on the biggest stage in college several times, and their character arcs are still shifting.

“I will take the bad guy role, and I will continue to take that on and be that for my teammates. I know I will go down in history. I will look back in 20 years and be like the reason why we are watching women’s basketball is not just because of one person. It is because of me, too,” said Reese.

Reese is the self-appointed villain and is often painted that way by the media, but the reality is that Clark is not always the protagonist. Off the court and in the eyes of viewers, yes, but amongst her peers and in between the lines, she plays the “bad guy role.” Sports are built on competition and entertainment, and that is exactly what Clark versus Reese is providing the WNBA.

Chennedy Carter inserted herself into the rivalry by hip-checking Clark to the ground when the Sky played the Fever last Saturday. The incident gained national attention and sparked conversations all across sports media platforms. The game averaged 1.5 million viewers, and that number is only set to increase the next time these two teams match up.

Obviously, an injury to Clark would be devastating for the league, and cheap shots are not okay, but the distaste that other players have for her will only increase interest.

Does race play a role in all of this? Maybe a little, but any player who enters a league as the most popular and highest-paid athlete in the sport is bound to have haters, no matter the color of their skin.

It is hard to say if the league will continue to ascend or if the hype will eventually die down, but the Fever is one of the worst teams with a 2-9 record, and it has not affected ratings whatsoever.

People continue to tune in, and it is only a matter of time before the casual fans also start to fall in love with watching players like A’ja Wilson and Kelcy Plum on the defending champion Las Vegas Aces or any of the other stars in the league like Alyssa Thomas, Breanna Stewart, or Arike Ogunbowale.

Just as Catilin Clark and Angel Reese have spiked interest in the game this year, the same will happen when the next class of well-known college stars like JuJu Watkins and Paige Bueckers turn pro. The WNBA is in great hands, and there is really no telling how big it can become now that Clark has arrived.

Discover more from

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading