Stephen A. Smith Credits Caitlin Clark For $50M In Charter Flights While WNBA Gatekeepers Downplay Her Influence

The attention Caitlin Clark has generated with her performance in college and the way corporate has taken to her has been positive for the financial and marketing health of the WNBA. 

Her presence can be directly related to the latest travel upgrades. The WNBA announced Tuesday that the NBA would commit $50 million over the next two years to provide full-time charter flights for all 12 WNBA teams, starting as soon as next week. 

WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert says they will launch the charter program as soon as “the planes are in place.”

She also has insisted that the WNBA has been working on charter flights since she took over as commissioner in July 2019.  She estimates that it will cost the league $25 million to charter full time. “You need that long-term revenue model,” she said, “and we haven’t had it.” 

Despite Clark’s influence being the reason WNBA players will have chartered planes for the first time ever, both her potential Team USA coach and the commissioner tried to center the focus back on the league. (Photo: Getty Images)

She says this move wasn’t made because of the popularity of Clark and other players in the 2024 draft class. That sounds like the commissioner downplaying Clark’s impact on the move, because to do so would imply that she got done in six days what the commissioner and past stars couldn’t get done in the last three decades.

I get it, but it doesn’t change the truth.

Cathy Engelbert, Cheryl Reeve, Brittney Griner Defend The Brand Pre-Clark

Engelbert’s comments come a couple of days after Minnesota Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve went on a rant about the WNBA being more than just Caitlin Clark and defending the past greats who are being swallowed into oblivion because of Clark’s crossover appeal. 

Some went as far as to suggest that Clark’s possible position on Team USA women’s basketball team, which Reeve coaches, was in jeopardy. Although leaving her off the team would be another calamity the WNBA can’t afford.

Engelbert refused to credit how Caitlin Clark brought attention to an issue the league and its players have been complaining about for years. When video surfaced of Clark walking through Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport with a bodyguard, it shined a bright light on the disparities in travel between the NBA and WNBA and the safety risks that these players endure with every flight for every game. 

Stephen A. Smith Says Thank Caitlin Clark For Charter Planes

Englebert can say what she wants. Stephen A. Smith credited Clark directly for inspiring this move on Wednesday’s “First Take” segment.

“You got to pay attention to the rising tide that floats all boats,” Smith said. “That girl went up in her press conference and spoke about flying commercial. They didn’t sit up there and make this decision until after she said that. She did it. She didn’t have to. She’s got her endorsement deal … her bag. She came in and already looked out and added a voice to the plight that these females have had to deal with inexcusably. And the one person who has that cache and marketability could have been selfish but was selfless.”

Some 19 million fans watched the NCAA Women’s national championship game — four million more than those who watched the men’s final. 

Fanatics said Clark’s jersey broke the one-night sales record for the company after the Indiana Fever made her the No. 1 overall pick in the Draft on April 15. 

When a person is that popular, she needs to be protected. So, while all of the women benefit, we know what’s really up. 

WNBA Gatekeepers Hating On The Low?

But despite Clark bringing the league all kinds of unprecedented mainstream attention, both her potential Team USA coach and the commissioner tried to shoot down her influence and center the focus back on the league. 

Brittney Griner spoke openly in an interview with People recently and addressed the Cailin Clark phenomenon. Griner at 6-foot-9 and the only woman in history who dunked with regularity, was also a well-chronicled phenom coming out of college.  

She remembers a difficult transition to the next level. “It’s different, when you come from college to the pros,” says Griner of what Clark and others will face in the WNBA. “I went from top dog to my numbers going down a bit. You’re going up against grown women. This is how they feed their families. This is not just for the love of the [game]. This is their livelihood.”

That was the third backhanded compliment Clark got this week from WNBA gatekeepers and legends. 

This can become problematic, because the people have clearly spoken, and the league hasn’t caught up. And Clark’s not the only rookie with a fan base bigger than most WNBA teams. Angel Reese and others are bringing the brand.

How Will League Manage Caitlin Clark’s Burgeoning Celebrity?

Managing the Caitlin Clark Effect will be the league’s biggest challenge this season. Because she is the embodiment of everything a meteor is. Bright, captivating, intrusive, moving at incredible speeds and threatening to the galaxy that’s comfortable in its usual state. 

Caitlin Clark sighs autographs during the ESPN+ Full Court Press premiere at The Tobias Theater at Newfields on May 6, 2024, in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo: Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

She is not only bringing in the fans and the bucks, but she’s also forcing the WNBA to re-evaluate their entire league culture on a … fly. She’s the gift and the curse and her brand is not controlled by the league in any way. It was created prior to entering the WNBA and she is the cash cow right now.

Most of the stars of the game and the coaches won’t freely relinquish the league to CC without a fight. But the only place they could possibly stop her hustle is on the court. As a brand she’s taken off and the WNBA really has to figure out how they are going to balance the hate with the love to get the best result for everybody.


More TSL Stories:

“The W Is More Than One Player” | Lynx Head Coach Cheryl Reeve Is Sick Of Caitlin Clark Hype and Might Not Want Her On Olympic Squad (theshadowleague.com)

“Trying To Raise My Children In Such A Cruel World”| Shayanna Jenkins Defends Deceased Fiancé Aaron Hernandez, Bashes Tom Brady Netflix Special (theshadowleague.com)

Black People Went Hard For Angel Reese and The WNBA Listened | Chi-Town Barbie WNBA Pass Debut Tuesday Night (theshadowleague.com)

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