Caitlin Clark Drops 30, Makes WNBA History in Fever-Sparks Loss

    After earning two league MVP awards and back-to-back WNBA championships in the last four years, Las Vegas Aces forward A’ja Wilson has witnessed the WNBA’s recent glow-up firsthand — along with all the growing pains that come with it.

    “Even after 2020, it was kind of like ‘Oh make me a sandwich, get back in the kitchen, this isn’t a real sport,’” she told Just Women’s Sports last week. “Now we get the barbershop talk, we get the rivals, we get the talks, and I feel like that is when we see really true growth.”

    Growth in the WNBA can take a lot of different forms: There are the sold-out crowds, the record TV numbers, the overwhelming spike in merchandise sales, and a wealth of other data points that tell the story of a league ready for its time in the sun amid the larger sports landscape. 

    Much of the league’s growing popularity can be attributed to a shining rookie class bringing more eyes to the sport, with off-court murmurings revolving around young stars getting attention from big brands as both pros and at the college level via NIL deals. But Wilson is quick to mention that generations of talented players have been pushing the sport forward for decades, and she sees her own recent opportunities as a piece of that evolving puzzle. 

    The 27-year-old’s WNBA accolades are many, but she is also an Olympic gold medalist hoping for her second this summer, a best-selling author, and a worthy face of a still-growing league. She announced her first signature shoe with longtime sponsor Nike just before the 2024 WNBA season tipped off, and her latest venture has her joining Gatorade’s elite athlete roster.

    A still from Gatorade’s “Is It in You?” revival commercial. (Gatorade)

    Wilson is one of the stars of Gatorade’s newest campaigns, a slate of ads that put women athletes directly into conversation with the superstars of men’s sports past and present. The throughline from Michael Jordan to players like A’ja Wilson and Caitlin Clark has never been more obvious than it is now, a narrative the brand hopes to represent visually — through beads of sweat.

    “I feel like it’s just one of those full circle moments,” Wilson said about the campaign. “As a kid, it’s something that I’ve always been drinking — juice wasn’t a thing, it was like, ‘Pass me the Gatorade.’”

    Nostalgic affinity aside, Wilson also noted that in order for public opinion of the WNBA to continue to move forward, more players needed to be included in the daily discourse that surrounds all sports, which includes TV commercials and magazine spreads. Visibility leads to curiosity about how WNBA players excel on the court day in and day out, and she feels the league is ready to show off.

    “I think that’s the best thing that we can ever ask for,” she said. “Learn about us, know that we’re deeper than basketball players, know that we’ve been doing this for a minute, and we’ve been true to this, not new to this.”

    Yet working to be seen can sometimes be in danger of eclipsing the very thing a player wants to be seen for: playing championship basketball. Wilson says that while sometimes she feels like she “is on a plane more than walking the Earth,” she never loses sight of the most important thing in her career. “I love having my voice being heard. I love meeting everybody and connecting with different people. But at the end of the day, the ball must go in the hoop,” she said with a laugh.

    The ability to balance a long book tour and a variety of offseason appearances with preparing for the WNBA season is something she attributes to her teams, both personal and within the Aces franchise. Las Vegas is one of the few WNBA teams with their own practice facility, and the investment has paid off in spades.

    A'ja Wilson (L) #22 and Jackie Young #0 of the Las Vegas Aces pose with their 2023 WNBA championship rings
    A’ja Wilson and Jackie Young tried on their 2023 WNBA championship rings in front of a sold-out Las Vegas crowd this month. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

    “It is a game-changer to know that people are invested in you and pouring into you, because it’s a lot to play, you pour out a lot,” Wilson said. “When you have companies, you have a fan base, and a franchise that is like, ‘No, we’re gonna pour into you,’ that’s when you get the best out of athletes.”

    The Aces have needed Wilson at her sharpest to start the 2024 season. WNBA legend Candace Parker retired with immediate effect at the beginning of training camp due to lingering injuries, and the team has been without starting point guard Chelsea Gray since last year’s WNBA Finals (which, of course, the Aces won).

    Despite the team’s setbacks — or, perhaps, in light of them — Wilson has responded without missing a beat. She already sits third in the league in points per game, while also leading the league in rebounds and sitting fourth in blocks per game. Her candidacy for a third MVP trophy is well on its way as she helps guide her team through an early bout of adversity on the court. Las Vegas has only suffered one loss thus far, but hasn’t always looked like their dominant selves through sections of games, particularly on defense, but Wilson’s perspective has remained solid.

    “The past few years, we would go through this funk maybe post All-Star [break], or right before All-Star, but now it’s just a little earlier,” Wilson said. “But I love that for us because it really allows us to not be complacent — it really allows us to really dial into what needs to be done.

    “Ultimately, if it was too easy, everybody would be going back-to-back.”

    Las Vegas Aces A'ja Wilson (22) in action, shoots vs Indiana Fever at Michelob ULTRA Arena. Las Vegas
    Wilson goes up for a shot in a May 25th game against Caitlin Clark and the Indiana Fever. (Erick W. Rasco/Sports Illustrated via Getty Images)

    With the 2023 banners already raised and rings doled out, the 2024 roster is looking to build their own form of chemistry throughout a long season. For Wilson, the biggest goal through what’s expected to be a grueling Olympic year is just to remain healthy — in addition to setting her sights on adding to her trophy case.

    “If I’m better than I was last year, that’s a check-off for me,” she said. “I don’t really believe in championship or bust. I don’t really like that talk, because it’s too long of a season for us, and we have a lot of stuff going on now. Obviously I just want to be a winner in every aspect, and bringing up my teammates with me of course is going to be huge because I cannot do this alone.”

    Where A’ja Wilson goes, it seems, the larger conversation around the WNBA follows, inching closer to becoming as universally spoken about as professional men’s basketball. “I feel like once people really see and dial into — and I can only speak for the Aces because that’s my team — what we do, man, that’s when the real talk is coming.”

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