Opposing players don't like Clark — that's a good sign for WNBA

It’s pretty obvious that some WNBA players aren’t too fond of Caitlin Clark.

Which should turn out to be a pretty good thing for the WNBA.

The anti-Caitlin sentiment has been growing clearer with each passing game. It flared up in the biggest way Saturday, when Chicago’s Chennedy Carter threw a shoulder into an unsuspecting Clark, knocking Clark to the ground. Carter’s teammate, Angel Reese, an old Clark rival from college, cheered the move on from the bench.

This was a clear escalation of some head-to-head play between the two over the previous few possessions, including Clark appearing to throw an elbow at Carter and appearing to say something to her face.

Clark is a marked woman and it’s adding plenty of spice to a season where, unlike back in college, she can’t dominate the competition.

Anyone tuning in expecting 40-point performances with Magic Johnson-like passes was always going to be disappointed. Watching Clark fight through adversity and rack up rivals is going to have to be drama enough. Besides, Indiana (2-9) is terrible.

Clark went just 1 of 10 from the field and scored a meager three points in a Sunday blowout loss to New York. She left that game with an apparent ear injury after getting bumped on a screen.

The league clearly believes it can physically knock her off her game, a fairly common tactic against young players at all levels of basketball.

“We understand who kind of the head of the monster is on that team,” New York veteran guard Sabrina Ionescu said of Clark. “We are trying to just make everything tough and difficult.”

Some of it is simply business. Some of it, though, appears personal. Neither one is wrong.

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - JUNE 01: Indiana Fever guard Caitlin Clark (22) is attended to by the bench and coach Christie Sides after falling to the floor after being fouled by the Chicago Sky on June 1, 2024, at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Brian Spurlock/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)INDIANAPOLIS, IN - JUNE 01: Indiana Fever guard Caitlin Clark (22) is attended to by the bench and coach Christie Sides after falling to the floor after being fouled by the Chicago Sky on June 1, 2024, at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Brian Spurlock/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Maybe it’s her fame. Maybe it’s her money. Maybe it’s the attention she commands. Maybe it’s just being the hotshot rookie who still needs to prove herself. You’d find all of these motivations in other sports and other circumstances as well.

Or maybe it’s just that Clark plays a hard, physical and in-your-face game herself.

Whatever it is, the spice — and shoving — has become a constant and that should add a nice bit of interest to things. The most popular sport in America? Controversy. Nothing like some bad blood and uncertainty of what might happen next to draw in fans, or at least keep them as Clark’s game comes together.

“Yeah, I wasn’t expecting that,” Clark said of the shoulder knock down. “But it’s just like, ‘Respond, calm down and let your play do the talking. It is what it is. It’s a physical game, go make the free throw and then execute on offense.’ Feel like that’s what we did.”

Carter, for her part, didn’t want to discuss it with the media but made her points on social media.

“Beside three point shooting what does she bring to the table man,” Carter asked in a post.

Later she embraced the backlash of those siding with Clark.

“I grew up with all brothers,” Carter, a fourth-year player, wrote. “All we did is fight and argue. I love the hate more than the love … I’d rather you hate me [than] love me and I mean that on my dead aunt.”

The mere fact that “I mean that on my dead aunt” has entered the lexicon is enough to make this kerfuffle fun.

What would make it even better is if everyone embraced what appears to be Caitlin Clark’s mindset — this isn’t a big deal. Carter’s shoulder was deemed a Flagrant 1 foul by the league and Chicago head coach Teresa Weatherspoon said in a statement that the action was “not appropriate,” but there will be no discipline. The way to end this is courtesy of a hard screen or a push back or, best of all, Clark using it as motivation to win.

The fact that Golden State’s Draymond Green weighed in saying the Fever need to sign an “enforcer” to protect their star — like Green has done for Steph Curry who was constantly physically challenged — and most people agreed is its own small victory for women’s sports legitimacy. No kids gloves here. Play ball.

Yes, ideally, every game is played with sportsmanship and respect, but that isn’t how the real world, especially in competitive sports, is played. Nor would many fans even want that.

In a pure business sense, WNBA players should love Caitlin Clark for the sponsorship money, fan attention and media coverage she is bringing to a league that failed to truly break through in over a quarter century of existence.

Maybe Carter is correct and Clark’s rookie game is mostly just 3-point shooting. It’s a big adjustment from the college ranks, where there are only a few good teams and players, versus the W, with just 144 roster slots featuring the best players in the world. It stands to reason Clark will continue to settle in and show the passing skills, scoring and leadership that she did back at Iowa.

What Clark brings, undoubtedly, is attention. If this happens a year ago, with another player, then only the diehard fans even know. Or care.

Everything is bigger with Caitlin Clark, which is why that smackdown spun heads and won’t stop until she smacks back in one way or another.

Caitlin Clark was never going to instantly overwhelm the WNBA. Her attempt to get there — against those who don’t appear to care for her at all — will be worth watching.

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