Caitlin Clark’s hard fouls in WNBA are about basketball, not jealousy

Caitlin Clark has only played 10 games in the WNBA, but she’s already well-versed in how much more physical the pro game is than college. Clark has been on the receiving end of several hard fouls to start her rookie season, and it happened again in Saturday’s Indiana Fever win over the Chicago Sky, setting off another conversation about her ‘treatment’ in the league.

At the end of the third quarter, Sky guard Chennedy Carter knocked Clark to the ground before she received an in-bounds pass. Carter was only called for a common foul. It looks like a reckless and intentional play with Clark standing 92-feet from the basket. Watch the full sequence here:

Carter has always been a fiery player. Back when she was with the Atlanta Dream in 2021, she was suspended by the team for apparently trying to fight teammate Courtney Williams. The Sky and Fever were locked in a heated game, and there was a lot of smack talk on both sides. Carter lost her cool and should have been whistled for a flagrant foul, but it’s also not totally outside of the norm of what other players have dealt with in the WNBA. Because it’s Caitlin Clark, it gets so much more attention.

The moment only got bigger because of the reaction after the game. Clark said: “It wasn’t a basketball play.”

Carter refused to answer questions about Clark after the game:

There’s no doubt that opposing teams want to be physical with Clark at the start of her rookie season. Certain pundits have asserted that this is because players around the league are jealous of the significant media coverage and endorsement money Clark gets. In reality, teams are being physical with Clark because that’s just a good basketball strategy and also probably because she talks a lot of trash.

Clark is 22 years old, and is going to need to add muscle to her frame over time to play through contact. Teams are trying to wear her down by hitting her on drives and with screens, and she needs to play through that. Carter’s cheap shot obviously goes beyond a typical play, but speaks more to the second point. Clark talks a lot of trash on the court, and she plays a physical game in her own right. Here’s Clark needling Carter before the foul.

Clark has brought some of the extra physicality she’s seeing on herself because she’s a fiery competitor in her own right. Angel Reese has also dealt with this so far in her rookie season.

Carter’s foul was far from the first time Clark took a big bump. She also got hit hard in the head a few games ago by Seattle Storm center Ezi Magbegor.

WNBA refs historically don’t give out a lot of flagrant fouls. While they don’t need to “protect” Clark more than any other player, they should be more willing to hand out flagrant fouls when it’s appropriate. Carter’s foul is one example.

To her credit, Clark has handled the added physicality of the WNBA well so far both in her comments and her play. The Fever are only 2-8 overall after the win over Chicago, but it’s a young team still learning to play together. Clark is having a solid rookie season — 17 points, 6.5 assists, 5.4 rebounds per game — even if she’s struggling with her scoring efficiency. She was never going to be the best player in the league as a rookie, but she’s still performing pretty well despite the massive expectations.

Playing through physicality is just part of the transition to the pros for Clark. It isn’t going to stop anytime soon.

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