WNBA commissioner addresses talk that Caitlin Clark has been targeted by opposing players

For those who think Caitlin Clark has been targeted by opposing players trying to rough her up, WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert counters by referring to recent game.

The game during which Clark made seven 3-pointers and scored 30 points in the Indiana Fever’s 85-83 victory over the winless Washington Mystics on Friday.

“Did anyone say she was targeted in that game?’’ Engelbert said during an interview with USA TODAY Sports. “No, because everyone’s just looking for the outcome that they want.

“But it’s great fandom. It’s great discussion, and I think obviously we continue to look at or review games after the fact.’’

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During an interview with USA TODAY Sports, Engelbert addressed several issues concerning Clark, the star rookie point guard for the Indiana Fever – including talk the league hasn’t handled the issues like some fans would like.

“They care enough to type thousands of emails to me,’’ Engelbert said with a laugh. “You know, talking about the WNBA, and the physical play. And those aren’t just Caitlin. Those are other players, too, that, like, 'Cathy you need to do this, you need to do that.'

“So people care. I love it.''

'Everybody's watching Caitlin'

Engelbert reiterated the attention Clark drawn while some fans have insisted she’s been targeted by opposing players as the Fever have gotten off to a 3-10 start.

“I think everybody’s watching Caitlin, so they’re focused only on Caitlin,’’ Engelbert said. “But when you look across other games (with) other players, it’s a physical game. There’s no doubt about it. It’s a pure shooter’s game, it’s a physical game, it’s a lot of pick-and-rolls, a lot of seeing the floor.’’

Engelbert addressed not only the outcry over physical play that led Fever general manager Lin Dunn to lash out on X, formerly Twitter.

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"There's a difference between tough defense and unnecessary — targeting actions!" Dunn posted June 1. "It needs to stop! The league needs to 'cleanup' the crap! That's NOT who this league is!!"

Engelbert said she has talked to Dunn. She also pointed out that after Chicago Sky guard Chennedy Carter knocked Clark to the floor before an inbounds pass June 1, the league upgraded the foul to a Flagrant 1.

“But I think we sent the message now that we upgraded that to the rest of the league,’’ Engelbert  said. “…So we’re obviously constantly looking at the consistency of officiating and things like that. But I think everybody focused on, and they’re watching one player, including myself.’’

Caitlin Clark's special impact on WNBA

Through 13 games, Clark is averaging 16.3 points, 6.0 assists and 4.9 rebounds.

“I think Caitlin has done great so far,’’ Engelbert said. “She was Rookie of the Month in May. A lot of rookies, it takes them years to adapt to this league. I think you see her talent, the way she sees the floor.''

Engelbert also cited the play of two other rookies: Angel Reese, who's averaging 11.6 points and 9.6 rebounds for the Sky, and Cameron Brink, who's averaging 8.1 points and 5.8 rebounds for the Los Angeles Sparks through June 11.

"I think Angel’s playing great,'' she said. "I think Cameron’s adjusted really well. These rookies are adjusting quicker than I think maybe some in the past.’’

But Engelbert clearly understands that one rookie – one player, in fact – is making a unique impact on the league during a surge in attendance and a spike in TV ratings.

After all, it was Clark and the Fever playing the Los Angeles Sparks May 24 in a game that drew crowd of 19,103 Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles. And it was Clark and the Fever playing the Mystics Friday in a game that drew a crowd of 20,333 to Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C.

“She obviously captures a viewer we haven’t had before, which is great,’’ Engelbert said. “…We’re thrilled with Caitlin and the generational players that have come in, and we’re thrilled with the rivalries that are being built.’’

Even controversy and criticism of the league seems to be welcome.

“Look, apathy is the death of a brand,'' Engelbert said. "Nobody’s apathetic about the WNBA because we’ve brought in so many new fans into what we call the fan funnel this year. And yeah, some are frustrated for sure. I get a lot of emails that I’ve never got in four years, but that’s because people care.''

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: WNBA commissioner talks Caitlin Clark's rookie year, impact on league

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