“Who’s Caitlin Clark?”  (Part Two)

Speaking of Caitlin Clark, now that we know Plant City Publix cashiers (or at least one of them) are familiar with the name, that might be as far as her popularity grows.  At least for now, USA Women’s Basketball has decided to curb her international appeal.

When I told BCole, who as I mentioned was the first on her block to order a Clark jersey, that she’d been left off the Olympic team, her reply was forthright. 

“That’s weird… guess they don’t want viewership”

Without making too much of a fuss over this, I racked my brain trying to figure out why she wouldn’t be invited to Paris.  There are several valid points to support both arguments.  She certainly has the statistical qualifications, as we discussed in our last post.  Since entering the WNBA, Clark is 13th in the league in scoring, 26th in rebounds and 4th in assists.  To her detriment, she’s also averaging more turnovers per game than any other player.  She is far from the league’s best player; she is its most targeted.

She is, however, the reason we walk into our local sports bars and find WNBA on the screen, whereas, as recently as last year, this would have been laughable.

For whatever the reason, Clark’s worldwide expansion has been put on hold, at least for the time being.  Clark didn’t make the cut, losing out to a more experienced group of players.  Anti-Clarkians propose the roster was already guard heavy, which is true.  Including Clark would have meant leaving someone, perhaps more qualified, off.  Clark’s early professional numbers warrant attention although, as with any rookie guard, her turnovers are inarguably too high.  You don’t want her getting picked on in international play, not to mention the fact that she’s been playing essentially non-stop since last autumn.  Team USA has won seven straight Olympic Gold Medals without her. 

USA’s players celebrate their victory at the end of the women’s final basketball match between USA and Japan during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at the Saitama Super Arena in Saitama on August 8, 2021. (Photo by Mohd RASFAN / AFP) (Photo by MOHD RASFAN/AFP via Getty Images)

She remains, however, the league’s biggest draw, and a singular force in the growth of woman’s basketball.  While some might argue that’s enough to warrant her inclusion, those compiling the roster did not.

Another perfectly valid argument suggests her mere presence would have been a distraction, especially if she doesn’t get the playing time in lieu of more experienced players.  The pressure to have her on the court too overwhelming, the decision to keep her off the roster was the safe play.  The last thing a coach wants is the pressure to play Clark, only to have her turn the ball over and cost Team USA a game, never mind a medal.  A lost gold would have been far worse than any pressured Clark-ian inclusion for popularity’s sake.

But still though, it’s Caitlin Clark, the biggest draw that the sport has seen, perhaps in its history.  NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has been so instrumental in supporting the league, I’m surprised he didn’t make a phone call.  It’s not like superstars in the WNBA’s brother league are opposed to a little collusion.  It’s pretty much how modern NBA rosters are constructed.  Despite Silver’s desire to grow the women’s game, I can’t imagine him overstepping his bounds.  But the networks?  You know for certain they were hoping Clark would make the trip.

Comparing Clark’s potential impact to the internationally, game-changing influence of the 1992 USA Men’s team is probably a bit of an overreaction but anything that grows the sport for women worldwide can’t be a bad thing.  Clark has already done so domestically, and significantly.

The USA Women’s team is a substantial favorite to win gold in the 2024 Summer Olympics.  They’re -1400 to win with the second closest team China coming in at +2000.  Clark’s presence on the team might have been a distraction to a team that’s supposed to travel to Paris and handle its business, although the decision to include the recently, internationally imprisoned Becky Griner was also an eyebrow raiser. 

Either way, we’re once again talking about women’s basketball, which is never a bad thing for the sport.  In another four years, Caitlin Clark will have her time to prove she belongs.

The Athletic’s Ben Pickman said it best.  “The Olympic selection committee was in a tough spot: Go with a roster stacked with proven veterans or incorporate the highest-profile rookie in league history?  There was no doubt either decision would be met with debate.”

He’s right.  There may be no right answer.  There are other more deserving women in the league.  Team USA cited Clark’s lack of experience as the biggest factor that left her off the roster.

With all this Clark snub talk, I can’t help but think of Christian Laettner, the only college player on that men’s 1992 team.  One of the greatest college players ever, Laettner barely got playing time in a tournament that changed the way the world viewed basketball.  While he didn’t carry with him Clark’s cult of personality, the decision to include him, and not say, a young Shaquille O’Neal at that time, who hadn’t won as much but was clearly going to be a more dominant pro, raised some questions.  In the long run, it worked out for them both.

This will work out for Caitlin Clark as well.  She’s already taken the rejection notice gracefully, using it as inspiration.  She’ll just have to wait four more years before she can do anything about it overseas while she watches Team USA attempt to bring home gold with the rest of us.

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3 Replies to ““Who’s Caitlin Clark?”  (Part Two)”

  1. What’s the controversy of including (Brittney) Griner? She’s retiring so perhaps that played into the decision?

  2. That’s the same as saying she should live in India for a while, so she can go to coffee shops and restaurants, without being rudely bothered by anyone who recognizes her.

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