People watching Clark for special moments


Ok. So here I go into an arena that I’m not really primed for.
Women's basketball has not been my favorite sport. That's nothing against the athletes that play it, but it has always seemed a little clumsy for the most part.
My brother was a girls' head coach for more than 20 years and has about three decades of coaching experience. He took one team to state and several to substate, I think. That tells you how much I follow it.
I’ve covered girls' basketball for more than 10 years and it’s relatively the same thing. Lack of ball control, lack of an ability to score under the basket, and a press that only works in man-to-man. You can say that’s an obtuse perspective, and it is, but it's my perspective from the court. I think most people think the same thing, but that's beginning to change.
I’ve never covered women’s basketball at a level higher than high school, and Caitlin Clark wouldn’t know me from any other stranger at the coffee shop.
But I have a Sunday audience so I’m going to dump my opinion here on what is happening with her.
It's been much to my chagrin that I’ve been following some of the national sports talking heads and I’ve found them to be polarized, fickle, and they step on themselves as the Clark story unfolds.
So here’s an opinion from the peanut gallery and it take it for what its worth.
People aren’t watching the WNBA because of the controversy. They aren’t. Angel Reece, who's surfaced as the anti-Caitlin Clark says people are watching because of her, too, but they’re not. The WNBA, with all its efforts to the contrary, has been boring and viewership will bear that out.  There was no storyline. Now there’s a storyline.
Here's evidence before I make my point. Clark’s WNBA team the Indiana Fever beat Washington Friday night in what was really a good basketball game despite a period in the third quarter when neither team could make a layup, a post spin around, an 18-footer or a 23-footer. They just went cold and it was painful to watch the transition non-sense. So why did I watch?
Why was that stadium, in Washington, sold out. Do they think the Mystic are that good? No, they don’t. They never have. Washington is like 0-forever. So why would people pay to go see them? Why has Indiana already set a single season record for attendance at home games?
This answer isn’t hard to look for, but the really fun conversation exists around the rest of the league jockeying for position in the Caitlin Clark-era.
Let’s just say this at the outset – Caitlin has some work to do and she knows it. She has some ball control issues when she faces the 90-feet of pressure each and every night she puts on whatever color the Fever are wearing that night.
She has a turnover issue. She ‘had” a defensive effort issue, but that was transcendent from her Hawkeye days. Now she has to play defense and she’s doing a much better job in the whole sphere of her game.
League games are selling out across the country. Ownership is trying to find bigger arenas to sell more tickets when Clark is in town. Do you honestly think they are coming because she might get body checked by some veteran who’s trying to get a ride on the Clark train?
They are not.
Do you think they just watch when Angel Reece is playing. They are not. As a matter of fact, I would ask someone to look at the numbers of Chicago Sky attendance. I’m sure it’s up. But the point is why. Is it because of Reece or Chennedy Carter? It is a little, but it’s more about of the Clark effect.
Reece isn’t Reece without the Clark rivalry. Carter isn’t even on the map until that happened. She knew it, that’s why she did it. Now she’s on the map.
People tune into Clark games on Ion or WNBA’s stream or wherever because they want to see what ‘SHE’ will do next. The other extracurriculars are people trying to come along for the ride. It’s not about basketball. It’s about image.
The perfect example is when Clark got into a groove in the third period Friday and hit five 3s in a row, one while falling out of bounds off balance from the right wing, the crowd erupted. It's Jordan 30 years later. People are intrigued and want to be part of the next great moment.
This has nothing to do with physical play, she’s gonna get that and she’s handling it okay.
It's the 3-ball. It’s the assists (or dimes if you’re really into it), she rebounds. She faces pressure no other WNBA woman player has ever faced. It’s regular up and down the floor pressure. Double teams, traps, face guards…it’s the things you do when you want to force turnovers and that’s what the blueprint is for her. But people come to watch and they hold their breath every time she has the ball on the perimeter. A step-back three, a behind-the-back dribble into a step-back three, a little forearm shove to get separation, whatever she needs to do in the big-girl pants league to get just a second to goose-neck one in from the logo, she's trying to do.
That’s what we want to see. The other crap is just people trying to come along for the ride. And we need to recognize that and let it slide away.
I’m not going to use the national sports talk show hosts names because we just aren’t a big enough venue here, but suffice it to say they’re tripping over themselves to stay on the right side of things with the league and all the owners. One guy even said the league needed to protect Clark because of the quick transition into the league after a long college season, only to say this week, she’s getting a rookie treatment and that's okay. Sorry, but that’s speaking out of both sides of your mouth.
This isn’t difficult. People want to see Caitlin Clark do special things...on the court. And that doesn’t have anything to do with getting shoulder-checked to the ground maybe with a little flop, or being shoved, or yelled at. It doesn’t. People didn't watch Jordan to see Lambeer wrestle him to the ground, or Barkley start crap with him. That was an added benefit to the ticket price. They came to see how special he would perform, not all the nonsense. It's the same with Clark.
Thirty point nights, long-range bombs, dishes that are so good her teammates can’t handle them and she gets hit with a turnover. All these things paint a picture of why the WNBA is cashing in on Clark.
And they should. But they better do something to protect her. If she gets hurt and sits down, ain’t nobody gonna watch after that. It’s just the WNBA of old, and that wasn’t that good.
I know, it’s just an opinion from a guy in a small-market in southeast Iowa, but it’s also from a guy who’s watched almost all of her college games and most of her professional games. I call it as I see it – but that’s Beside the Point.
Chuck Vandenberg is editor and co-owner of Pen City Current and can be reached at

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