DAN BICKLEY

USA Basketball missed with Caitlin Clark’s exclusion from Paris Olympics roster

Jun 11, 2024, 3:20 PM | Updated: 5:12 pm

Caitlin Clark, Indiana Fever...

Caitlin Clark #22 of the Indiana Fever reacts to a call in the fourth quarter against the Washington Mystics at Capital One Arena on June 07, 2024 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)

(Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)

The WNBA is one of the hottest topics in America. That alone is a significant victory.

Except the current conversation gets political. It gets racial. It gets ugly. It gets stupid.

The exclusion of Caitlin Clark from Team USA’s roster for the Paris Olympics is just the latest tipping point and clear evidence that the record-setting rookie from Iowa is causing a major disturbance in the roundball universe.

It is customary for USA Basketball to clear out a spot for phenoms, hotshots and future faces of their sport. They did it for LeBron James in 2004. They did it for Diana Taurasi. They do it to help mentor generational players, expose them to great coaching and even better teammates at an early age, bringing them under the national umbrella as soon as possible.

Clark is the future of the WNBA. She needs to be on the roster for the sake of exposure, for her own growth and the growth she will bring to the sport.

Alas, she is not on the team because she is not wanted. Because she has been given so much already. Because the WNBA might splinter from the inside if Clark dominated the headlines, hogging the media coverage and endorsement opportunities in glitzy Paris.

How sad.

The story seems to overflow with petty jealousy. Clark arrived in the WNBA with a record-setting $28 million shoe deal from Nike. Minutes after she arrived, the league announced a shift to private air travel. You can only imagine how offended the pioneers of the league must feel.

Many assume Taurasi is one of the ringleaders of the Haitlin crowd, and there are numerous soundbites that suggest the Mercury star isn’t entirely impressed by the newcomer. It’s also important to remember that Taurasi’s defining characteristic is her ruthlessness. At age 42, she remains a competitive savage with an acid tongue, and her fire still burns those who get too close. The same was true of Michael Jordan, who once refused to share an Olympic stage with rival Isiah Thomas.

On some level, Taurasi and other greats of the game have a right to feel bitter. They are the ones who endured commercial flights and low salaries and cheap insults from misogynistic sports fans. They are the ones who felt compelled to moonlight in Russia and other foreign places just to get paid, just to feel special. They are the ones who have won seven consecutive Olympic gold medals.

For 27 years, previous generations toiled in relative obscurity, frequently scorned for playing basketball below the rim. While the quality of athlete and the credibility of the sport has soared in recent years, their compensation, their benefits and their popularity have not.

Until Caitlin Clark came along.

From the racial component to all-encompassing envy, this story is eerily similar to when Tiger Woods took the PGA Tour by storm. It took a while for the most dimwitted golfers to realize just how much money Woods was delivering in the form of prize money, and just how many eyeballs Woods was bringing to the sport.

This is where the WNBA needs a strong voice at the top. To remind everyone that jealousy is a destructive and terrible emotion; that a rising tide lifts all boats; and that Clark is great for business. Maybe even the tsunami the sport has been waiting for.

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