C-C-C-C-aitfight!!!

On a day when no other men’s professional basketball game was to be played, the spotlight was clearly on the first matchup of the 2024 WNBA season between the Indiana Fever and the Chicago Sky.  It wasn’t the proximity of the two cities nor their current records that was the allure–between them, they entered yesterday afternoon’s national ABC telecast with a combined record of 4-11.

But it was the first-ever professional matchup of the Fever’s Caitlin Clark and the Sky’s Angel Reese.  In the 2023 NCAA women’s championship game, they battled before a record network crowd for a women’s college basketball game of nearly 10 million viewers as Reese’s LSU team denied Clark’s Iowa squad a title.  This past season, LSU didn’t quite make it back, while Clark broke virtually every record that had previously existed in the sport toward another championship game, where this time Stanford denied Clark a championship.  But along the way, Reese maintained her dominant presence as a marketing force and icon among the sport’s younger and most ardent fan base, arguably an equal to the omnipresent Clark in that subset.

So there were ingredients for extra attention and scrutiny to be paid to this game and, sure ’nuff, as if on clue they delivered.  As MEDIAITE’s Philip Nieto reported yesterday:

Caitlin Clark was hit with a cheap shot during a Saturday Women’s basketball game while her controversial rival Angel Reese cheered on the aggressive move. 

(A) controversial foul late into the third quarter of the game caused some controversy on social media. After Sky guard Chennedy Carter completed a shot, she moved to guard Clark as she was receiving a pass.

Carter then delivered a rough shoulder check to Clark, knocking her to the ground. The referees then called out Carter for the foul and Clark was allowed to shoot from the free throw line.

Reese could be seen cheering Carter on right after she delivered the brutal knockdown to Clark.

Following the moment, Clark spoke with reporters once the quarter ended noting that the move by Carter was not a “basketball play.”

“Yeah, that’s just not a basketball play,” Clark said. “But you know, I’ve gotta play through it, that’s what basketball is about at this level. I thought we’ve been really physical, we’ve missed some bunnies around the rim, so hopefully those fall in the fourth.”

Carter refused to address the controversy after the game was over when asked by reporters, adding “I ain’t answering any Cailtin Clark questions.”

Well, Carter might have been biting her lip, but plenty of other personalities haven’t.  As the ASSOCIATED PRESS’ Doug Feinberg reported:

Indiana coach Christie Sides praised Clark in her postgame interview Saturday for keeping her composure through all the physical play she’s faced this season.

“We’re just going to keep sending these possessions to the league, and these plays, and hopefully they’ll start, you know, taking a better look at some of the things that we see happening, or we think is happening,” she said. “Just more happy that Caitlin handled it the way she did. You know, it’s tough to keep getting hammered the way she does and to not get rewarded with free throws or foul calls. She’s continued to fight through that. Appreciate that from her. Really, really proud of her for doing that.”

And that strategy seemed to work, as Feinberg posted in an update that dropped earlier this morning:

The WNBA on Sunday upgraded Chicago Sky guard Chennedy Carter’s foul against Indiana Fever guard Caitlin Clark to a flagrant-1 violation after reviewing the play.

Carter gave a shoulder shot to Clark before an inbound pass during the third quarter of Saturday’s 71-70 win by the Fever. The officials called it an away-from-the-ball foul and didn’t review the play. It was deemed a common foul at the time.

In her first several weeks as a professional, Clark has been a lightning rod for controversy at the very moment she is bringing the league–and its collective membership–a level of attention and creature comfort they’ve never seen in their 27-year history.  And a couple of more prominent personalities, including one who’s played a prominent role in that history. had already spoken out last week about this via the NEW YORK POST’s Caroline McCarthy:

Becky Hammon has had it with the purported Caitlin Clark hate narrative.

The Las Vegas Aces head coach addressed any rumors of resentment toward the Indiana Fever’s Clark and the attention she’s been getting during her rookie season in the WNBA.

Earlier in the week, NBA on TNT personality Charles Barkley called out “petty” women who were hating on Clark, which he was then called out for by a number of WNBA stars.

Hammon echoed the sentiments of others, saying she’s a Clark fan.

“We love Caitlin Clark,” Hammon told reporters Friday, while center A’ja Wilson laughed in the background. “I think she’s amazing. … We’re just doing our job. We’re gonna show up. Whoever’s on the other team is on the other team.”

Hammon is a true pro, and someone who has been in the trenches and locker rooms of both the men’s and women’s professional ranks.  But it sure seems like Barkley, as he often is, has a handle on some particular sentiments which Hammon is probably too mature and distanced from to be anything more than dismissive of.

I have no doubt Barkley, and very likely Carter and Reese, read at least excerpts of what USA TODAY’s Mike Freeman wrote at the outset of Clark’s WNBA career last month.  And since it quotes Hammon herself, I imagine she’s at least familiar with it, too:

In October of 2023, after Game 1 of the WNBA Finals, Las Vegas Aces coach Becky Hammon was asked a question: Does star player A’ja Wilson deserve her own signature shoe? Hammon’s response was one of incredulity.

“You think?” she said. “You don’t need my thoughts. You already know my thoughts.”

Then she gave her thoughts.

“She needs her own shoe,” Hammon said. “She is the two-time MVP. I’ll toot her horn because she won’t. Olympic gold medalist, best defensive player two years running, her team’s (success). Stop. Stop.”

“In due time, in due time,” Wilson said of the shoe, at that 2023 press conference. “We’ll see what goes on, but in due time I believe we’re going to get something moving and shaking. But I’m blessed just to have my name in that conversation.

“A lot of players don’t get signature shoes so for people to say I should or demanding that I get one, I’m blessed to be in that situation. So, in due time, we’ll see …”

In a majority-Black league there are currently no Black players with signature shoes.

There’ve only been 12 players in the history of the WNBA with their own signature shoe. In the past, almost every signature shoe from 1995-2011 belonged to a Black woman. The fact that only white women hold the power of the signature shoe now, as the WNBA enters its most high profile and prosperous phase, shows how Black women are being ignored in a league that they dominate.

The fact that a national columnist would attempt to invoke a time in the history of the league (which actually began in 1997, not to nitpick) when the attention being paid by the public relative to the men’s game and other sports was minimal as exemplary has its own level of incindeniary qualities.

But after what went down yesterday, and the apparent lack of any desire for any accountability from anyone on the Sky, which have all but turned their own rebuilding and rebranding efforts over to the charismatic and popular Reese, it sure looks like Barkley has a better handle of the state of affairs than many are willing to admit.

Were Carter to doing what she did in 2011, even to an establihsed star like Hammon was at the time, it wouldn’t be national news.  It may not have made the late sports pages in Chicago, and they actually existed back then.

But we are paying a lot more attention now.  And whether or not it’s her personal wish that she “ain’t answering any questions”, she has an obligation to the sport that’s employing her at some point to do so.

Or she may be soon be answering to the type of response that a guy that knows a bit about on-court responses, and someone with even a bigger social media footprint that Reese, let alone Carter, offered up to ATHLON SPORTS’ Zachary Neel in yet another story that dropped yesterday:

After the game, Golden State Warriors star Draymond Green weighed in on the situation with some words on social media. Green suggested the Fever do what everyone thinks they should — invest in some enforcers to back up Clark on the court when she takes cheap shots. 

And with a quarter of their regular season gone and Clark’s team, even after squeaking by to a 71-70 win over Chicago, currently fifth in a six-team division with a winning percentage of .200, Green’s advice is arguably as apropos from a basketball sense as it is from a public relations sense.

The Sky don’t play Indiana again for three weeks; they will host the Fever in what will likely be another nationally televised ABC game on the Sunday following the conclusion of the NBA finals.  It sure seems like ABC is salivating over the potential of that matchup to attract an audience, and are likely rooting for both teams to improve their standing in the interim.

I for one hope that Reese or Carter are forced to respond in some way, shape or form before this.  With words or perhaps better game play.

And at some point, they might also want to go on record with how someone like Mike Freeman thinks they may feel.  We could use a little record-straightening there, too.

Courage…

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