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Graney: You can criticize Caitlin Clark’s game, but not her impact

Updated May 27, 2024 - 11:48 am

The only thing that has changed is the uniform.

Well, and the level of play.

Yeah. Big difference. B-i-g.

This isn’t Iowa anymore.

But the hype surrounding Caitlin Clark hasn’t diminished. Not by a layup. Men and women, boys and girls, still line up across banisters leading to a basketball court hoping for a picture, an autograph, a high-five, a smile. Screaming her name. Pushing one another aside for a better vantage point.

(We pause here to admonish the gentleman on Saturday night who literally jumped over a young girl while shoving a pen and card toward Clark. He wasn’t successful. Karma, man).

It’s amazing there are No. 22 jerseys and T-shirts with Clark’s name on them still available.

It’s amazing anyone sees the bad in all of this.

Easy Aces win

Clark and her Indiana Fever teammates rolled into Michelob Ultra Arena to engage the Aces. More like crawled in from what has been a brutal schedule to start the WNBA season for the visitors.

That would be — get this — seven games in 12 days. Tired legs is right.

It wasn’t much of contest. The Aces won 99-80 before 10,399. Better at every spot.

It was also a forgettable night for Clark.

Critique her game if you want. All is fair in war and missed jumpers.

And she wasn’t very good Saturday. This, the first back-to-back of her professional career.

She entered averaging a team-best 15.4 points, as well as 5.4 rebounds, 6.3 assists and a league-leading 5.3 turnovers. She hasn’t come close to finding her shot — 38 percent from the field, 31 percent from 3.

Her defense can be lacking. You can make the argument there are small stretches this young season where the Fever have been a more efficient side when Clark takes what are usually short breaks.

Her final numbers Saturday: Eight points, five rebounds, seven assists and six turnovers.

She is an elite passer. Problem is, too many have sailed out of bounds or into the arms of opposing players.

But this is what rookies playing so much go through, never mind one with the glaring spotlight that Clark has stood under for years now. Never mind one with the intense pressure sitting atop her shoulders.

The noise has grown louder in recent times, this theory of there being more and more haters (including other WNBA players) aimed Clark’s way. It has gotten so the likes of LeBron James and Charles Barkley have publicly come to her defense.

Race has entered the discussion, with Aces coach Becky Hammon twice in the past few days criticizing those who would correlate Clark’s popularity with the color of her skin.

“I think this narrative of like everybody hating on Caitlin Clark and even the Black and white thing — knock it off,” Hammon said Friday. “It’s not there. So shut down the noise. What is she, 22? She’s a 22-year-old woman with a lot of pressure. She’s not perfect. She’s a rookie in this league. Like, back off.”

You can’t question the attention Clark has brought women’s basketball. You can’t deny the impact she has made across all levels of the game. Critique her game if you want. That’s more than fair. But know how much good she has created. Know how many eyeballs she has brought along with her.

Block out noise

“This is my job,” Clark said before her team’s first victory Friday in Los Angeles. “My job is to compete and play basketball every single day. I think the more attention we can get on every team around this league, that’s only going to help me get better and better.

“My job is just to continue to show up and help this team get better.”

And to block out any outside noise.

It’s amazing, watching folks of all ages follow her every move, hoping she might glance their way.

It’s amazing anyone sees the bad in that.

Ed Graney, a Sigma Delta Chi Award winner for sports column writing, can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on X.

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