Jim Souhan
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My hyper-controversial scalding take on the hottest topic in women's sports: Caitlin Clark is the best thing to happen to basketball since the invention of the net.

Not because she's taken the WNBA by storm.

Because she hasn't.

Men's basketball was always bound to become popular. It's a spectacular sport combining uncommon athletic ability and rarefied skill. Even in the days when sports leagues and networks didn't comprehend what their earning power should be, the game was great. Once the powers that be realized that you could make money on basketball if you actually televised the finals before midnight, the rest was decimal points and details.

Women's basketball is belatedly on the same path. The game has dramatically grown in popularity and revenue in recent years, and was already on an encouraging track before Clark became a crossover star.

Clark's ability to make women's college games must-watch events, and her transition to the WNBA, has done favors for both levels of the sport.

Clark brought new fans to women's college basketball. Now she's bringing new fans to the WNBA, and those fans are learning what women's basketball fans have known for decades: the W is so good, it's hard for even great college players to immediately make their mark in the league.

Clark's introduction to the WNBA is a national story growing in volume for two reasons: because some established players seem to resent the attention she is getting, and because former college rival Angel Reese was seen cheering when Chicago teammate Chennedy Carter committed a flagrant foul on Clark.

The foul was wrong, and probably wrongheaded.

The fact that a nation of sports fans are talking about the foul, and Clark, and the reactions she has inspired, is exactly what the WNBA needs right now.

The league was already great. The world's best players are packed into 12 teams, making this the most talent-rich league in established professional sports.

Player and coach salaries are increasing, the league has mandated (mostly) charter flights this season and the quality of play is better than ever.

Proof: the Indiana Fever had the first pick in the last two drafts, chose immense talents in Aliyah Boston and Clark, and is second-to-last in the league.

That's how good the WNBA is. Clark may have been the greatest player in the history of women's college basketball, and she's having trouble getting her shot off.

The league's marketing department would have preferred that Clark become an instant star while lifting attendance and ratings. What might be better in the long run for the league is having Clark provide proof of how good the league already was.

Even if Clark becomes a star, she may never be as good as Breanna Stewart, A'ja Wilson, Alyssa Thomas or Napheesa Collier. Or she may become a late bloomer like Kelsey Plum, a great college player who became a WNBA star in her fifth season.

If someone tunes in to watch Clark, or to watch Clark get flagrantly fouled, they'll see stars who were great long before Clark committed to Iowa.

The WNBA and its traditional fans are also going to have to get used to being uncomfortable as the league's popularity grows.

So many of the aspects of modern sports that can make being a fan, player, coach or writer tiresome — cliched sports talk, overhyped controversies, pointless debates, clickbait journalism — are essential to widespread popularity.

ESPN doesn't talk about the Dallas Cowboys 365 days a year because their hosts want to, or because there is a journalistic reason to do so. They talk about the Cowboys because their analytics prove that talking about the Cowboys sells.

The WNBA is in the business of selling itself — its players, image and entertainment experience.

What the league should want is the kind of inflated controversy and debate that sparks conversation. The league should want Stephen A. Smith pulling out his thesaurus to better describe his utter rage over … whatever.

The league should want Reese to, in her words, "take the bad guy role," in her ongoing rivalry with Clark.

Flagrant fouls or attempts to injure are not welcome, but they are a reminder of how competitive this league is.

This isn't a bunch of athletes playing nicely together. This is a full-fledged major league sport marked by physical play and rivalries.

Clark getting fouled hard is a story line that will play on every platform.

Reese, Kennedy and Clark just reminded the world that the W is a tough league in every possible meaning of the word.

If Carter had fouled Grace Berger like that, we may not have noticed.