First Caitlin Clark, Angel Reese Pairing Is Dividing American Loyalties

Fans are expected to favor WNBA All-Stars over Olympics Team USA.

Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Caitlin Clark, left, of the Iowa Hawkeyes and Angel Reese of the LSU Tigers during the finals of the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament at Albany, New York, April 01, 2024. Andy Lyons/Getty Images

In the history of the Olympics, it’s likely unprecedented, but most American fans won’t support the U.S. Women’s Basketball team in its upcoming exhibition game on home soil. The arena in Phoenix July 20 will undoubtedly feature plenty of Red, White, and Blue. Yet, many attendees at the 2024 WNBA All-Star Game are expected to favor Caitlin Clark and Angel Reese’s squad of all-stars over the USA team bound for the Summer Games in Paris.

The U.S. Olympic team typically showcases the country’s best players. But the WNBA All-Star team is more intriguing with Ms. Clark and Ms. Reese playing together on the same squad.

Some might call it a rivalry, the evolution of a seed planted when the two first met on the national stage in the 2023 NCAA Women’s Basketball Final where Ms. Reese and Louisiana State defeated Ms. Clark and the Iowa Hawkeyes. It renewed again in the 2024 national semifinals where Iowa defeated LSU before losing the championship game to South Carolina.

Yet, their first half-season in the WNBA is evolving into more of a partnership that has maintained attention on their teams, their league as well as themselves. Ms. Clark, the first overall pick by the Indiana Fever, and Ms. Reese, the 7th overall choice by the Chicago Sky, enter the All-Star Game having validated the hype surrounding them, setting WNBA records in the process.  It’s why the crowd will cheer for them in Phoenix instead of Team USA.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been her teammate before, even in USA Basketball,” Ms. Clark said of teaming up with Ms. Reese. “I know people will be really excited about it.”

They’ve earned the attention. Ms. Clark became the first rookie in league history to record a triple-double in an 83-78 upset of league-leading New York Liberty last weekend, while Ms. Reese set a new mark for consecutive double-double games with her 13th in an 84-71 loss to the Seattle Storm.

Averaging 14.1 points and 11.9 rebounds per game, Ms. Reese is quickly establishing herself as one of the best post players in the league. The Sky, after an early slump of six losses in seven games, have shown improvement with four wins in their last seven outings before a Wednesday game against the Atlanta Dream.

 “Coming into this league, so many people doubted me and didn’t think my game would translate and I wouldn’t be the player that I was in college or better or would be worse and wouldn’t be where I am right now,” Ms. Reese told reporters recently. “But I trusted the process and I believed and I’m thankful that I was able to come to Chicago. I can’t thank my teammates and my coaches enough for just believing in me and trusting me.”

Ms. Clark has dealt with the constant scrutiny she has received by staying focused on improving her play and her team. She is averaging 16.1 points, 6 rebounds, and 7.4 assists per game for the Fever, who began the season 1-8 but have won six of their last nine. She has endured a rash of turnovers, hard fouls, and verbal jabs from critics without showing frustration or verbal retaliation.

“We’re definitely playing some good basketball,” Ms. Clark said ahead of Wednesday night’s game against the Washington Mystics. “We’re definitely finding some confidence with what we’re being able to do out there on the court. We’re playing together better.”

A growing debate is which player will be voted Rookie of the Year. It’s a conversation that only benefits the WNBA and their respective teams.

Some have compared their “rivalry” to when Larry Bird and Magic Johnson entered the NBA in the 1980s. It’s a valid comparison. The two men first met in the 1979 NCAA Championship when Mr. Johnson’s Michigan State team beat Mr. Bird and Indiana State. They squared off again in the 1984 NBA Finals where Mr. Bird helped the Boston Celtics defeat Mr. Johnson and the Los Angeles Lakers in seven games. The NBA’s popularity soared from there.

Ms. Clark and Ms. Reese are on a similar path at a time when social media creates even more attention. From sold-out crowds to record television ratings, the WNBA is relishing its unprecedented growth.

With Ms. Clark and Ms. Reese on the same team for the first time, the 2024 WNBA All-Star Game becomes a must-watch event with Team USA serving as the spoiler.

The New York Sun

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