The first sign the Caitlin Clark discourse might get a little weird came back in February, and Clark wasn’t even in the building.

Sabrina Ionescu, the New York Liberty star, had just put on a dazzling performance in a 3-point contest against Stephen Curry, losing to the greatest shooter in history but with a point total better than most of the NBA shooters who contested the event earlier that night.

On the TV broadcast, Kenny Smith’s immediate response to her display was that she should have shot from the WNBA’s closer 3-point line instead of from behind the NBA arc. The contest wasn’t fair, he lamented.

It was an odd reaction. Instead of celebrating Ionescu’s feat, one of the more genuinely exciting moments at an NBA All-Star Weekend in recent years, Smith implied that she shouldn’t have even tried to match Curry shot for shot. It came off as condescending.

It’s a pattern that’s been repeated as Clark burst into the WNBA as its most heralded rookie ever, only to be on the receiving end of lopsided losses and rough treatment. Analysts who never before paid attention to women’s basketball have weighed in with an assortment of opinions both well-meaning and insulting. Outlets that normally don’t even pay attention to sports have acted as though Clark is a delicate flower to be protected from her dangerous opponents. And even the backlash to all that has become overheated, with claims that Clark is in fact overrated and that nothing that’s happened to her is unusual in WNBA terms.

It’s as though there’s an imbalance in the take industry. Deep breaths, everyone.

The cycle began before Clark made her WNBA debut when players like retired legend Sheryl Swoopes and active legend Diana Taurasi made fairly routine assessments of what they expected the incoming all-time NCAA scoring leader to do in the pros. Swoopes said Clark wouldn’t be able to match her college stats straightaway and Taurasi said rookies often have an adjustment period. “Reality is coming,” Taurasi said, explaining that there’s a difference between playing against teenagers in college and against seasoned professionals.

These were not searing critiques, but there was a predictable online backlash of the type normally seen with defenders of Taylor Swift or K-pop bands. “The new fans are really sensitive these days,” Taurasi later said. And yet those offended on Clark’s behalf also included LeBron James and Charles Barkley, who both said WNBA players should be grateful for the money and attention the former Iowa Hawkeyes phenom was bringing to the league. “Y’all petty, girls,” Barkey said, in his unique way.

Radio host Colin Cowherd said the WNBA should have rigged the schedule so Clark’s Indiana Fever began against softer opponents, while former NBA player Jeff Teague went a step further in suggesting that the games should be treated more like pro wrestling, allowing Clark to score buckets and impress all the new WNBA watchers.

Other than waving away the competitive integrity of a league that’s existed for more than 25 years, the idea that players should be deferential to an opponent would be sacrilege in the NBA.

But the media storm picked up intensity last weekend when Chennedy Carter of the Chicago Sky, after some apparent verbal jousting with Clark, gave her a shoulder check that sent Clark crashing to the floor. It was a dirty play, and Carter’s own coach later called it inappropriate.

The reaction was loud and ongoing. In addition to being talk-show fodder in which it was questioned whether Clark was being targeted because she is white, rich, and famous, conservative commentators like Megyn Kelly were outraged on her behalf, and even the Chicago Tribune’s editorial board opined to say that Carter’s shove on Clark would be “an assault” outside a sporting context and pleading for the rookie to “not became a target for rule-breakers.” Just wait until the editorial board sees what happens to rookie quarterback Caleb Williams when he takes the field for the Chicago Bears this season.

That round of criticism, much of it overblown for what amounted to a shove and some of it using coded racial language like “thug” directed at Carter, then brought a backlash from those annoyed at all the pearl-clutching on Clark’s behalf. A piece in The Atlantic decried the poorly formed opinions of all the Johnny-come-latelys in the media who now have many thoughts about women’s basketball, noting Clark is far from the WNBA’s first white star. A Washington Post column blasted Clark’s overzealous defenders and said she “doesn’t need to be coddled.” Many noted that Angel Reese, Clark’s former college nemesis, had also been hit with a dirty foul in a WNBA game, in an incident that garnered little media attention at all.

Several fine points were made, but the rhetoric on all side seems a bit too charged, as though there’s a binary choice between Clark as an unfair victim and Clark as a normal player getting the usual rookie treatment. Pick a lane.

It makes for a less spicy take, but surely there’s a middle ground here. Is Clark getting tested like any other rookie? Sure. But is there maybe the odd sharp elbow that comes from her being promoted as the face of the WNBA before she was even in it, and from the fact she signed a reported $28-million shoe deal with Nike? Also possible. Why pretend like all her opponents have the exact same motivation?

After a 2-9 start, Clark’s Fever play at Washington on Friday night. The focus will finally be back on basketball. Or, at least, one can hope. Clark should be around for a long time. There’s no need to choose sides quite so soon.


Breanna Stewart’s team-high 25 points and 10 rebounds helped lead the visiting New York Liberty to a 78-61 win over the Atlanta Dream on Thursday in College Park, Ga.

Stewart also had five assists, while Betnijah Laney-Hamilton added 15 points for the Liberty (9-2), who won their fifth straight game. Jonquel Jones and Sabrina Ionescu each tallied 10 points for the Liberty, with Jones grabbing eight boards.

Allisha Gray led Atlanta (4-4) with 16 points, while Aerial Powers scored 13 off the bench. Rhyne Howard added 11 points, six rebounds and five assists for the Dream, who fell for a second straight game. Tina Charles, facing her former team, scored five points and brought down a team-high eight rebounds for Atlanta.

Holding a six-point halftime lead, the Liberty began the second half on a 7-0 scoring run, taking a 45-32 advantage with 6:27 remaining in the third quarter. Gray and Naz Hillmon answered with back-to-back jumpers for Atlanta to cut into the deficit.

With the Dream down 11, Lorela Cubaj made a pair of free throws before Hillmon and Gray once again scored on consecutive possessions, cutting New York’s lead to 47-42 with 2:41 left in the third.

Stewart’s three-point play put the Liberty ahead 55-45 with 32.1 seconds left and New York led 55-48 entering the final quarter.

Laney-Hamilton, Leonie Fiebich and Jones each buried triples in the first two-plus of the fourth quarter, giving New York a 66-53 lead and forcing an Atlanta timeout at the 7:36 mark.

Neither team scored for another two minutes, until Laney-Hamilton hit two shots in a 15-second span, putting New York ahead 70-53 at the 5:17 mark.

Powers’ pullup jumper snapped a 3:35 scoreless stretch for Atlanta, cutting the deficit to 70-55 with 4:55 remaining. Howard’s jumper with 3:44 left made it 73-59, but the Dream didn’t connect on another field goal.

In the first half, Atlanta trailed by five with 3:31 left before Cheyenne Parker-Tyus’ layup and Charles’ triple knotted the score at 30.

From there, an 8-2 New York run capped by Laney-Hamilton’s mid-range jumper gave the Liberty a 38-32 halftime lead.

Stewart’s 12 points led New York in the first half, while Parker-Tyus and Gray each scored eight for Atlanta.


Chennedy Carter scored a season-best 25 points off the bench to help the Chicago Sky overcome a 13-point deficit to beat the Mystics 79-71 on Thursday night at Capital One Arena in Washington.

The Sky (4-5) went on a 16-0 run during the third quarter to dig out of a hole before holding on down the stretch.

The game marked a homecoming of sorts for Chicago rookie Angel Reese as the No. 7 overall pick was playing close to her hometown of Baltimore. Even her college coach, LSU’s Kim Mulkey, showed up and sat courtside. The game was moved to the NBA venue before the season in anticipation of Reese’s homecoming.

Reese had 16 points and 11 rebounds for the Sky (4-5) and also tallied five steals and three assists in a do-it-all effort.

Chicago — winning just its second road game of the season — was also boosted by 14 points from Isabelle Harrison and 10 from Marina Mabrey. Starter Elizabeth Williams exited the game with an apparent knee injury after scoring six points in 10 minutes.

Washington, which is now 0-10 for the first time in franchise history, was also powered by its first-round draft pick, as rookie Aaliyah Edwards piled up a season-high 23 points to go along with 14 rebounds and four blocks. Shatori Walker-Kimbrough added 11 points and Ariel Atkins finished with 10.

Shakira Austin (hip) remained sidelined for Washington.

The Mystics jumped out to a 21-15 lead in the first quarter, a stretch highlighted by three assists from Stefanie Dolson. Washington held a nine-point lead at halftime, and grew that advantage to 13 points early in the third quarter on back-to-back layups by Dolson and Atkins.

And then the Sky scored 16 straight points to take a three-point lead as the Mystics endured a scoring drought of close to five minutes.

The Mystics had 24 turnovers to just 13 by the Sky, and Washington allowed the Sky to outscore them 48-38 in the paint. Both teams struggled to connect on shots from behind the arc, as Chicago shot 1-of-14 from 3-point land while Washington made 4-of-17.