canada africa partner reservation Caitlin Clark’s WNBA debut loss won’t stop women’s basketball’s momentum

Caitlin Clark’s WNBA debut loss won’t stop women’s basketball’s momentum


Caitlin Clark of the Indiana Fever takes on Astou Ndour-Fall and DiJonai Carrington of the Connecticut Sun in Clark’s debut WNBA match at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn., on May 14, 2024. Credit – Elsa – Getty Images

bAhead of her ballyhooed WNBA debut on Tuesday night at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn., Indiana Fever guard and No. 1 2024 draft pick Caitlin Clark told reporters she didn’t imagine her first WNBA points would come on a of her signature long-range 3-pointers, shot from a logo on the court, far from the basket. “What I’ve been thinking about is it would be nice to get a layup as my first basket,” Clark said at a news conference some 90 minutes before tip-off. “A high percentage of two. Get off to a good start.”

Clark, the all-time leader in Division 1 college basketball regardless of gender, smiled. Hundreds of her fans, wearing red Indiana Fever or University of Iowa No. 22 shirts, poured into the venue, helping the Connecticut Sun sell out a season opener for the first time since 2003. She was preternaturally relaxed and the tip was fast approaching.

But once the game, which Indiana lost 92-71 to Connecticut, started, things didn’t follow Clark’s script. Her first shot was indeed a drive for a layup. But it bounced hard off the edge. Her second shot was a short, point-blank floater into the lane. She missed that too. For her third attempt, Clark faked a Sun defender, who sailed past her. We saw her make that move a million times in college. But she missed again. Moments later, Clark was called for her second foul. It was a ticking whistle. Any contact was minimal. No matter: Clark walked to the bench, still scoreless.

In the second quarter, shot four was a 27-foot bomb, off the dribble, that went to her left. She missed again and waved her arms in frustration. How could this early uselessness not creep into her mind? The greatest scorer in college history couldn’t find a way to score in her professional debut.

Finally, about fifteen minutes into her WNBA career, Clark stole the ball, dribbled down the right side of the court, hesitated for a nanosecond before firing past the Connecticut defense for the first bucket of her WNBA career — indeed, an easy lay -up, that “high percentage two.” Better late than never. The crowd roared.

Clark finished her first game with 20 points and 10 turnovers – a promising double-double. “Too much turnover,” Clark said afterwards. “That’s not going to get the job done.” Her 10 turnovers are an Indiana franchise record and the most ever in a WNBA career debut. However, it should be noted that she is not the first star player to throw the ball too many times to the other team in her first WNBA game. Cynthia Cooper held the previous record, with eight turnovers, according to Basketball Reference. She is a four-time WNBA champion and Hall of Famer. Lisa Leslie had seven.

“They punched us in the mouth tonight,” Indiana coach Christie Sides said, her voice hoarse after the game because she had yelled at the sold-out crowd. Caitlin agreed with that assessment. The Sun pride themselves on their defensive prowess, and Connecticut’s DiJonai Carrington in particular harassed Clark all night, harassing her with her size. Wherever Clark dribbled, a double-team seemed to greet her, forcing her to make long, sometimes forced passes that were disallowed. She traveled unusually at one point.

Despite her individual struggles, Clark showed flashes of her genius. She warmed up in the second half and finished the game with four 3-pointers on 4-11 shooting from distance. Her shots kept the Fever within striking distance. She confidently took the ball to the basket and made all six of her free throw attempts. Later in the match, the Fever’s offensive attack flowed, with Clark passing, cutting and playing off her bigger teammates to find openings. If the fever can hold that flow for four quarters, watch out.

It’s not like Connecticut shut Clark down outright. She still led her team with 20 points. Connecticut’s DeWanna Bonner also dropped 20 in the win.

And for a moment it is worth following the advice of Sides, the Fever coach. “Make sure you take a moment to absorb it and enjoy what’s going on with women’s basketball and with the Fever right now,” she said before the game.

On a typically hectic Tuesday evening in May, a casino in southeastern Connecticut felt like the center of the sports universe. For example, several teachers from across New England cheated on their students to trek to Uncasville and shell out $125, or more, for nosebleed seats just to see Clark’s debut. A few police officers drove from the Philadelphia area to the game. Therese Manley, a retired school counselor from the Bronx now living in Danbury, Connecticut, took her friend’s mother, an 88-year-old woman named Jean Hesse, to her very first WNBA game. “Because history was being made, I had to be here,” said Manley, who waited with Hesse for the doors of the Mohegan Sun Arena to open.

Lyla Bodek, a second grader from Middleton, Massachusetts, drove two hours with her father to pick up Clark. During warm-ups, she waved at the Fever rookie holding a sign – sponsored by Dunkin’ – with a note in her handwriting. “Dear Caitlin Clark,” Bodek wrote. “You’re my favorite WNBA player. Thanks to you, I wanted to play basketball. I feel 22.” Like many children at the game, she wore a red No. 22 Fever shirt.

Nearly 200 media members were qualified to cover the game, which aired on ESPN2 and streamed on Disney+ and ESPN+. ESPN alone has legitimized 75 people. According to StubHub, overall demand for WNBA tickets is up 93%. Fans at Mohegan Sun also credited Angel Reese, Kamila Cardoso and other young talents, along with Clark, for bringing buzz to the WNBA. The April draft attracted 2.4 million viewers, a 307% increase from last year. TickPick, an online marketplace, reported that it sold twice as many tickets for the Connecticut Sun’s home opener against the Fever than it did all season for the Sun. Another online marketplace, Vivid Seats, says the Fever’s retail price has increased by 183% compared to last season. And demand for the WNBA has increased across the board, as the average sales price rose 119% last year.

One Fever loss won’t stop this momentum. After the final whistle, Clark hit fives with her teammates and marched back to the locker room with her head bowed. The Fever are back at it on Thursday, hosting the New York Liberty. Indiana’s game on Saturday against the Liberty in Brooklyn will air on ABC. It will undoubtedly draw a huge network audience (Tuesday night’s New York Knicks-Indiana Pacers playoff game on TNT certainly encroached on Sun-Fever viewership).

“She captivates the crowd in a way we haven’t seen a player do in a long time,” Sun coach Stephanie Wright said. “It moves the needle in a way that our sport deserves. It moves the needle in a way that our players have earned. We want to continue to benefit from that.”

Write to Sean Gregory at [email protected].