For Clark, Sky and WNBA, controversies are a welcome development

The WNBA is still in the era of “no publicity is bad publicity.”

It might be annoying, at times illogical. But every little bit helps.

The controversy about Caitlin Clark being left off the U.S. Olympic team may be overblown. But it will also help draw attention to the one of the most powerful squads in the world of sports.

How many people even know the U.S. has won seven consecutive gold medals in women's basketball? Whether she's on the team or not, the chatter about Clark could help guide the spotlight to players like Breanna Stewart and A'ja Wilson, the last two MVP winners in the WNBA, who are expected to lead the national team.

And injury replacements are probably inevitable. The Olympics are happening in the middle of the WNBA season. The league is actually taking a monthlong break from mid-July to mid-August to accommodate the Olympics.

So Clark might get another chance to claim a roster spot, although Dallas' Arike Ogunbowale, who torched the Sky on Opening Night, probably deserves the first call. The Milwaukee native is currently the league's second-leading scorer.

Another example is even if the Sky needs to spend more on security for the team bus, the overcooked hot takes about Chennedy Carter's hard foul against Clark were a net positive.

Look, nobody is endorsing hard, intentional fouls, but they happen sometimes. DeMar DeRozan basically did the same thing against Houston late this season and it wasn't a national crisis. Frustration can get the best of anyone and Carter did take a hit to the face while the teams battled for a rebound on the other end.

For better or worse, the net outcome was the Sky gained another household name and recognizable face. The Sky and Fever square off again Sunday in Indianapolis, and it's probably safe to say CBS is expecting some nice ratings.

There have been no shortage of strange takes about Clark's popularity. Whether it's a columnist calling it “problematic” for the WNBA or a host on “The View” referencing “Pretty privilege” — well, it's a step up from the previous standard of ignoring the WNBA.

Eventually, maybe everyone can settle on the obvious. Clark is popular because she's a great player, in the same manner Steph Curry became the most popular player on the men's side. Both do things on the court that haven't been seen before.

One could argue Sheryl Swoopes drew a similar reaction when she led Texas Tech to a national title in 1993. But that happened before social media or the WNBA existed, and Swoopes was a senior, so she faded from view quickly.

There was a bit of a perfect storm involved with Clark. If she'd gone to Notre Dame, where she originally committed; or Connecticut, her dream school, this likely plays out differently. Maybe she doesn't take on as big an offensive role with a more established team. Leading Iowa to the national championship game twice created a higher level of homespun underdog story.

If there's resentment of Clark, it feels like some complaints are focused on, “Why didn't this happen sooner? The players who built the WNBA deserve credit too.”

But look at what built the NBA into a powerhouse league — the cult of personality. It took off with Magic Johnson and Larry Bird in 1979 before Michael Jordan carried it up about 100 notches.

Over the years, I've watched the most popular NBA players work hard at it. Jordan took questions from a scrum of reporters after every game, and spent time trying to perfect his communication skills. Players like Charles Barkley, LeBron James, Vince Carter, Dwyane Wade made themselves available before games.

How many WNBA players have been open, engaging and available over the years? Not very many, certainly not in Chicago.

That's why Angel Reese is an important addition to the WNBA. She seeks the spotlight and thrives in it, as evidenced again last week when she stood at Carter's side and addressed the controversial foul in Indiana. Charisma sells on any platform.

Bird and Magic started out bitter rivals who despised each other, but became friends when they filmed a commercial together one summer in the 80s. It was the one where Johnson pulled up in a limo outside Bird's home in Indiana and challenged him to a pickup game.

Some company needs to film a sequel with Reese pulling up to Clark's home in suburban Des Moines. Maybe they'll even become best friends.

Twitter: @McGrawDHSports

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