The WNBA Soap Opera Takes Over The Sports Conversation For Better Or Worse: League Has To Embrace and Manage the Madness

The WNBA turned up again this past weekend with record viewership numbers.

WNBA Is Doing Numbers

The Indiana Fever and Chicago Sky game on Saturday was the most viewed program of the day on cable, according to ESPN, with 1.53 million average viewers on ESPN+, with viewership peaking at 2.19 million.

The game received an extra boost of drama and juice when Chennedy Carter responded to being elbowed and taunted by Clark with a shove to the ground.

It’s now become known as the “cheap shot heard around the world” and it was the talk of social media and talk radio shows all week long. 

Arguing about the W, picking a favorite player, identifying enemy teams and coming up with conspiracy theories about the league is a new hobby for some sports fans. Some have never thought twice about the WNBA, for a number of reasons, but now, to say that the league has arrived as the center of the national sports conversation, wouldn’t be a stretch. 

For some, football season can’t come soon enough. Others are trapped in the SEO matrix.

The Angel Reese and Caitlin Clark Effect has divided fans along several lines. Those who feel like Caitlin Clark is the sole reason why the WNBA has had this rush of interest. And those who feel like Clark is getting too much of the credit and overshadowing, even belittling, the women who have kept the league vibrant. 

Reese came right out and said what her league-high 3 million social media followers were thinking: 

“The reason why we’re watching women’s basketball is not just because of one person,” Reese said. “It’s because of me, too. I want y’all to realize that.”

She wasn’t lying. Every great rivalry needs a villain and a hero. Reese has accepted her villain role. So much so that she received the first double-tech ejection of her WNBA career late in the fourth quarter Tuesday night.

Reese was whistled for a foul, her fifth, with 2:31 left to play in the Chicago Sky’s 88-75 loss to the New York Liberty. According to reports, Reese “disrespectfully addresses” referee Charles Watson, who gave her technical.

Then in what is determined to be a second violation, Reese waved her hand in disgust as she walked away from Watson, who gave her another technical, which resulted in an automatic ejection.

Arguing about the W, picking a favorite player, identifying enemy teams and coming up with conspiracy theories about the league is a new hobby for some sports fans.
Arguing about the W, picking a favorite player, identifying enemy teams and coming up with conspiracy theories about the league is a new hobby for some sports fans.

The players on the court looked confused and after the game, head coach Teresa Witherspoon said she “didn’t get an explanation,” as to why Reese was ejected when she asked. 

Lonzo Ball Wasn’t Feeling Angel Reese Technical Foul

Angel Reese fans were very bothered by the ejection for what appeared to be something very minimal. 

Injured Chicago Bulls player Lonzo Ball was sitting close to where the interaction transpired. He called the ref “weak” and suggested he’d pay Reese’s fine.

Because the technicals were Reese’s first and second of the season, each will cost her $200.

Were the refs trying to send Reese a message? She has a lot of sass to her game and her persona and everyone knows that. In the aftermath of the Carter vs. Clark situation and Reese’s comments following that incident, maybe that ejection was a way to put the outspoken rookie in her place. 

If so, that’s another problem that the WNBA will have to address, because people come out for Reese. According to reports, the Chicago Sky is averaging 8,248 fans at home and more than 10,400 on the road. It’s not the 16,571 average that the Fever draw, but let’s be honest: there’s a lot more going on in Chicago than Indiana. And those pockets of the country support basketball in a different way. In addition, Clark is probably the most popular person in the state of Indiana right now. And the attendance proves it, as the Fever have already surpassed their attendance from all of last season.

Clark vs Reese Is Magic vs. Bird Rivalry The W Has Been Waiting For

Both Clark and Reese have been major factors in the rise of women’s basketball over the past two seasons. Reese referenced the 2023 NCAA women’s national championship game between LSU and Iowa, where she embraced the “bad guy” role.

“It all started with the national championship game, and I’ve been dealing with this for two years now,” Reese said. “And understanding like, yeah, negative things have probably been said about me, but honestly, I’ll take that, because look at where women’s basketball is. People are talking about women’s basketball that you never would think would talk about women’s basketball. … Just because of one single game. Just looking at that, I’ll take that role. I’ll take the bad guy role.”

Reese understands the bigger picture. While she never takes anything away from Clark’s influence, Reese knows that a movement isn’t sustainable with one person getting all of the love and credit. 

WNBA Will Protect Clark: There’s Too Much Invested

It’s really fascinating reading social media posts and the way that people of all races are expressing their personal views through the scope of a few WNBA rookies who have captivated the sports world at large. 

The way Clark’s tribe denounced the incident as hate, jealousy driven by a “thug” mentality, you would think that Chennedy Carter hit Clark in the leg with a steel pipe, on some Tonya Harding-Nancy Kerrigan type of evilness.  

The players within the game, the coaches and those who actually see these games as pro competition and not a soap opera. Unfortunately, the casual fan is only interested in the drama.

Can WNBA Manage The Beast That’s Growing Out Of Control ?

The WNBA is entering uncharted territory, and the league is trying to handle things the best it can. When something grows exponentially faster than expected, while the growth is great, it also creates other unforeseen problems. 

Noone could predict how emotionally involved the casual fan would get in these WNBA debates that are all over every social media platform imaginable. Players such as Caitlin Clark and Angel Reese are becoming as popular as NBA players, and it happened overnight. 

Now the league has to manage all of this, while blocking out the noise and trying to promote the entire league. It still has to be receptive to the voice of veteran players while controlling hundreds of narratives running in various directions. 

Any way you look at it, the WNBA has to embrace these rookies who have captivated the sports world more than any WNBA player has been able to do in the past 28 years. Sure, A’ja Wilson is the best in the game and an incredible player.

Sure, Diania Taurasi has scored more than 10,000 points.

But the new fans that the league clamored for want to talk about the rookies. Period. The next level for the league begins with the first-year celebrities that are the talk of the league.

It’s unfortunate that other stars are getting overlooked and the actual games are a footnote to the drama within, but such is life. If corporate is paying, the league will be forced to go with the flow. Can’t be fighting a war with yourself and think the league will thrive.

Angel Reese vs. Caitlin Clark Part II Could Be Record-Breaking

Reese and Clark’s first WNBA battle was a thrilling game that the Fever pulled out in a 71-70. The two teams will meet again on June 16 and it has a real chance to be the most watched/followed game in WNBA history. 

The Bird-Magic rivalry that catapulted the NBA to great success is happening in the WNBA and the fans are the driving force behind it. No need to coddle Clark. She’s a big girl, doing big things. Nike didn’t give her $28 million to be a victim. She’s playing her hero role to perfection, garnering sympathy that protects her when she has poor games and elevates her when he plays well. 

 It’s clear what the people want. The WNBA has to figure out how it wants to be perceived and how seriously it wants to be taken as we ride this wave of WNBA madness. Right now, it’s just one big soap opera, but that’s what drives everything these days. The league wanted the stage, and it has it. But gossip and drama only last until the next best thing comes along.

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