Caitlin Clark and the future of the WNBA

A New Future for the WNBA: Can Caitlin Clark Be The Start of a New Era for Women’s Basketball?

The Splash Brothers will soon welcome a long-lost cousin to their extended family. Iowa Hawkeye star Caitlin Clark is likely to be the first pick in the 2024 WNBA Draft.

The biggest reason for the increased interest in the Women’s NCAA Tournament over the past two years is Caitlin Clark. One could say that the Women’s Final Four and Championship game drew more attention than the Men’s bracket this year.

By The Numbers

While the 2023 WNBA Finals brought in the league’s highest viewership numbers in over two decades, it still pales in comparison to the numbers that the NBA brings in. Last season the ladies’ championship series brought in an average of 728,000 viewers per game on the ESPN platforms. This year’s Final Four matchup between Iowa and UConn attracted 14.2 million viewers. These record-breaking numbers came just a few days after Iowa’s victory over LSU in the Elite Eight became the most-watched women’s college basketball game in history with 12.3 viewers. The young lady wearing the number 22 Iowa jersey was the one constant in both.

Although Brianna Stewart, A’ja Wilson, Jewel Loyd, Sabrina Ionescu, and company have done their best to change the narrative about their league, one that has focused more on “team” than “me” and fundamentals rather than the high-flying showmanship, there has still been plenty of hate towards the WNBA.

Considering what she has done for the Women’s NCAA viewership numbers, is it possible that Clark can do the same for the WNBA? Absolutely! Learn more about Caitlin Clark’s achievements here.

And With The First Pick…

Armed with the first pick in the upcoming WNBA Draft, the Indiana Fever have their choice of Clark, Cameron Brink (Standford), Rickea Jackson (Tennessee), or Camilla Cardoso (South Carolina) as the four likely choices to join their team. With all due respect to the other three ladies on this list, it is a no-brainer for the Fever to turn their team over to the Iowa Hawkeye guard. Coming off a 13-27 season, third worst in the league last year, the Fever could use a boost, both on and off the court.

It would be an incredible addition for the Fever, adding Clark’s scoring ability from the moment she steps over halfcourt, to her court vision, to her clutch moment mentality, to a roster that includes 2023 WNBA Rookie of the Year Aliyah Boston and veteran guard Kelsey Mitchell. Boston has already gone on record to state her excitement about the opportunity to play alongside Clark, noting that it isn’t just her knack for hitting the long ball that she’s looking forward to. “I just think the way she is able to see the floor. She’s able to pass the ball. I think she just sees the cuts before it happens and she’s just able to find the right angle.”

One-on-One

Although there is still room for two-handed chest passes, dropstep layups, and swinging the ball for the open shot, the current generation of college players is adding some more sizzle to the game, especially the stars. Crossovers, deep threes, and fast break tempo have become the norm as have individual rivalries.

Magic vs. Bird. Jordan vs. Isiah. Kareem vs. Russell. LeBron vs. Steph. The NBA has had numerous iconic individual rivalries that helped build the league into the empire that it is now. The WNBA needs the same. ESPN/ABC has a ready-made rivalry game for the 2024 season between whichever teams draft Clark and LSU forward Angel Reese, which should be entered into a prime-time slot.

You “Can” See Me

Somewhere, John Cena is probably asking his legal representation if he can get some kickback for Clark and Reese using his famous “You Can’t See Me” hand gesture to help elevate their personal stock. Or maybe it was Clark and Reese who helped to make that piece of nonverbal trash talk more mainstream. Either way, the added flare, fire, and intensity have brought attention to the Women’s game.

“I don’t really get offended when people say, ‘I’ve never watched women’s basketball before,’” Clark stated following Iowa’s championship loss to South Carolina. “One, you’re a little late to the party, yes, but two, that’s cool. We’re changing the game. We’re attracting more people to it.”

One of the biggest parts of Clark’s bravado has been her ability to back up her words (or body English) as she elevated her scoring average in each of her four seasons as a Hawkeye.  Averaging 28.4 points, 8.2 assists, and 7.1 rebounds while shooting 46% from the field and 37.7% from downtown, Clark wasn’t just a one-trick pony, involving herself in everything Iowa did.

The NBA has Victor Wembanyama. The NFL has Justin Jefferson, and the WNBA will soon have Caitlin Clark. While no major sports team or league can survive and thrive on just a single star player, Clark will join a list of generational superstar players who will help carry their sport into the future.

 

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