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Caitlin Clark: Icon, Supernova, & Future of the WNBA

College basketball’s scoring leader has her eyes set on the WNBA and could be the sort of player that the league has been clamoring for for years

Caitlin Clark is officially the most prolific scorer in the history of women’s college basketball (and is within reach of Pete Maravich’s men’s scoring record). The Iowa Hawkeyes guard broke Kelsey Plum’s record with a shot that has become routine for her: a three pointer that is closer to half court than the three point line. She is the most fascinating women’s college basketball player that we have seen in years, a player that feels like the women’s game version of future Hall of Famer Stephen Curry. She has taken the sports world by storm with her massive scoring outputs and seemingly infinite range. 

As a collective, we have all been so impressed by what she can do it seems that it will be a mere formality if and when the Indiana Fever select her with the first overall pick in the upcoming WNBA Draft. She will undoubtedly bring excitement to the Fever, a team that has been in the cellar of the WNBA for the last seven seasons looking to potentially build around Clark and last year's number one overall pick Aliyah Boston. Beyond simply rejuvenating a lost franchise, Clark has the capability and the gravitas to do more than just that. She could be the player that provides the WNBA with a breakthrough in widespread popularity that it has been searching for since its inception in 1996

The Star Factor

A few years ago, the landscape of college athletes changed forever from a marketability and financial perspective. The creation of name, image, and likeness rules (NIL for short), allowed athletes to sign endorsement deals to make a profit from their notoriety as household names while not yet being paid as professionals. When it comes to these deals, they range from a major endorsement with a shoe company on the high end to running a commercial for a local car dealership on the low end. Caitlin Clark can be considered a NIL supernova. She has deals with Gatorade, Nike, and State Farm to name a few.

These deals are not given out to just anyone, Clark has earned every second of advertising time that she gets. From her first game as a Hawkeye against Northern Iowa she scored 27 points and has been dominant ever since. She has averaged 28 points per game over the course of her four year career in Iowa City, with this year being the most impressive as she currently sits at 32 points per game. She has also shown to be an adept rebounder and passer, averaging 7 rebounds and 8 assists per game over the course of her college career. 

Iowa has a dominant offense that leads the country in points per game, and Clark is the main reason why. She is second all-time in usage rate in women’s college basketball history at 37.7%. This means that the ball is in her hands most of the time, where she will make decisions throughout the course of the game that will likely influence the final outcome. She will finish her career in college as the top points scorer we have ever seen and also rank in the top five in assists as well (she is currently at #5 with a few games to go). The numbers are staggering but it is the way that she has gone about displaying her greatness that makes Clark stand out from other talents that have come and gone throughout the years. 

Clark plays a heliocentric style that makes her the focus of attention for defenses. It is not unlike what we see from elite guards in the NBA like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander or Luka Doncic. Clark has range and isn’t afraid to shoot, while also possessing tremendous playmaking ability, coupled with a swagger and demonstrative demeanor that fans everywhere will love. She is a tailor made superstar ready to take the WNBA by storm in a way that previous players have not. Clark sells out home games and dominates national headlines in a manner that we have not seen many players in women’s basketball do (it is a sport typically dominated by high-profile coaches). This summer, Clark will take all that swagger into the WNBA and inject the league with a fuel that it has needed desperately for many years. 

The Reinvention of the WNBA

In the 1970s, the NBA was a league that was struggling. There was no continuity of elite talent and the league was ravaged by drug addiction. The arrival of Larry Bird and Magic Johnson to the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers helped to create a rivalry that spanned most of the decade and revived interest in the NBA. Both of the teams were loaded with talent with players like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, James Worthy, Kevin McHale, and Robert Parish. In essence, they formulated super teams that were expected to meet in the NBA Finals every season. 

This past offseason, the WNBA engaged in its own form of super team building when the New York Liberty signed Breanna Stewart (a former MVP and four-time All-Star with the Seattle Storm) while the Las Vegas Aces added veteran legend Candace Parker to a team that already featured the likes of Kelsey Plum and A’ja Wilson. The two teams were on a collision course that resulted in a matchup in the Finals this past season where the Aces triumphed in four games. This has set the standard for winning in today’s WNBA, as we have seen the Seattle Storm reload their team by bringing in six-time All-Star Skylar Diggins-Smith and former MVP and eight-time All-Star Nneka Ogwumike to form their own super team to compete with Las Vegas and New York. 

The WNBA, like the NBA years ago, has realized that star power is what works in professional basketball in America. Caitlin Clark is the biggest star to emerge from the college ranks in many years, and by pairing her (potentially) with Aliyah Boston, they have the foundation for the next great young team in the league with two players that dominated college basketball. Clark as a shooter, playmaker, and overall personality will be like rocket fuel for the WNBA, a league that has desperately needed a spark from a high profile star for many years. Clark is that star, and I would expect the league to market her as such when she turns pro. 

With the rivalry that the Aces and Liberty have formed, it can be argued that they are the Celtics and Lakers of the WNBA. It is then not too much of a stretch to say that Clark is coming in to be the Michael Jordan of this league. A smaller player with a tremendous college career and intangibles that just scream stardom. As a viewing public, we have watched Caitlin Clark for four years and have watched her grow from good story to legendary player, and there is more to come from her in the future.

Reshaping the Mold

It can be argued that Golden State Warriors point guard Stephen Curry is more influential than LeBron James when you consider that an entire generation of players that play the game today have emulated their style after Curry. So many players these days are trying to enhance their range and become better dribblers just like Curry. The greatness of LeBron is not as easily manufactured since so much of it was based on the physical torque and force that he employed while driving to the basket. It is ultimately more attainable to learn proper shooting form and hone that skill with repetition than it is to build upon a foundation of physicality. That same viewpoint is what makes Caitlin Clark so accessible and relatable to a future generation of basketball players. 

Clark is not physically imposing as she stands at six feet tall and 155 pounds. Many aspiring basketball players are likely to have a similar build as Clark as opposed to other players. This makes her instantly relatable and the prime target to be a face of the league. She is already the face of college basketball alongside LSU’s Angel Reese (who she played in last year’s National Championship game). Because we have seen Clark play for the last four years we are used to her as a known commodity. She will enter the league and be a marquee name right away. 

This exposure and longevity opens up the potential for stardom as a professional. The WNBA has a lot of great players that are currently playing in the league and who have played in the past. But those players did not have the gravity of Caitlin Clark. She is without a doubt, must-see television every time that she steps foot on a court. Her limitless shooting range takes away the shallow criticisms of the women’s game being somehow inferior in quality to the men’s game. Her three point shots have a degree of difficulty that many NBA players could not match. Her personality on the court is something that will energize this league in a way that we have not anticipated, making the WNBA infinitely more viable as a television product than it has ever been. 

Caitlin Clark is a special talent that has helped to fortify the popularity of women’s college basketball to the point that programs that discuss men’s college basketball are leading with stories about her instead. She is transcendent, a player that we all feel compelled to watch and a player that will give us a reason to tune in to the WNBA as soon as she is drafted. She is what the WNBA has been waiting for since its inception, a player that moves the needle to increase the league’s popularity. It is a lot of pressure to put on one person, but if anyone can conquer the odds and make magic happen it is Caitlin Clark. She is quite simply, the future of the WNBA.

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