Monday, June 17, 2024

Caitlin Clark’s race ‘huge thing’ when it comes to her popularity, WNBA star says

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Las Vegas Aces center A’ja Wilson is a five-time All-Star and is hoping to lead her team to a third consecutive WNBA championship this season.

However, the Aces’ quest for a three-peat may be flying under the radar thanks to the incoming rookie class headlined by the Indiana Fever’s Caitlin Clark. The former Iowa star set all-time records for scoring during her senior season and led her school to back-to-back national championship appearances.

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Las Vegas Aces center A’ja Wilson, #22, speaks during the team’s media day on May 3, 2024 in Las Vegas. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

Even with the accolades on her resume, the narrative around Clark has turned into studies and media critiques about why she is popular instead of her game lifting up women’s basketball.

Wilson, in an interview with The Associated Press, agreed there was a race element to the sharpshooter’s popularity. 

“I think it’s a huge thing. I think a lot of people may say it’s not about Black and White, but to me, it is,” Wilson said. “It really is because you can be top-notch at what you are as a Black woman, but yet maybe that’s something that people don’t want to see.

“They don’t see it as marketable, so it doesn’t matter how hard I work. It doesn’t matter what we all do as Black women, we’re still going to be swept underneath the rug. That’s why it boils my blood when people say it’s not about race because it is.”

FEVER’S CAITLIN CLARK DRAWS IN RECORD CROWD FOR INDIANA DEBUT: ‘PRETTY UNHEARD OF’

A'ja Wilson at USA camp

A’ja Wilson, #9, looks on during the USA Basketball Women’s National Team Training Camp at Cleveland Clinic Courts on April 3, 2024 in Independence, Ohio. (Mike Lawrie/Getty Images)

Clark’s endorsement deal with Nike after the WNBA Draft sparked questions about why she received one with no professional experience and Wilson did not get one despite players like Breanna Stewart and Elena Della Donne receiving a deal.

Nike announced Saturday she was getting a signature shoe. Wilson also signed an endorsement deal with Gatorade. Wilson made the comments to the AP before the deals were announced.

Clark finished her collegiate career as the Division 1 all-time leading scorer with 3,951 points. She also won the Wooden Award, Naismith Award and Women’s AP Player of the Year Award in back-to-back years.

When it came to endorsement deals, Clark had something Wilson did not coming out of college – a relationship with top companies already because of name, image and likeness (NIL). SponsorUnited’s study of NIL marketing partnerships from February 2023 to February 2024 showed that Clark already had nine brand deals and was not even in the top five of female athletes when it came to NIL deals.

According to the study, Angel Reese, of the Chicago Sky, and her former LSU teammate Flau’jae Johnson were in the top five. Reese had 26 NIL deals and Johnson had 18. SMU volleyball player Alex Glover had 41 NIL deals, Cameron Brink – now of the Los Angeles Sparks – had 21, as did Illinois softball player Yazzy Avila.

Clark has not leaned into the race debate either. Amid the on-court rivalry with Reese, Clark said in March that they were just a part of a bigger puzzle for women’s sports.

Caitlin Clark guarded by Allisha Gray

Indiana Fever guard Caitlin Clark, #22, drives on Atlanta Dream guard Allisha Gray, #15, during the first half of a preseason WNBA basketball game in Indianapolis on Thursday, May 9, 2024. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

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“I would say me and Angel have always been great competitors,” she said before the Elite Eight matchup. “I think Angel would say the same, like it’s not just us in women’s basketball. That’s not the only competitive thing about where our game is at, and that’s what makes it so good. We need multiple people to be really good.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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