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Commentary: Caitlin Clark Olympics snub is short-sighted

I want to preface what I’m about to say with the fact that I’m delighted the WNBA and women’s basketball are peaking in terms of popularity and finally getting the recognition it deserves.

But with that attention comes an impeccably bad decision by USA basketball: keeping Caitlin Clark off the Olympic roster.

As Christine Brennan first reported for USA Today, citing sources within USA Basketball, there was a concern about how Clark’s fans would react to her having limited playing time on a talented roster. If true, this has to be one of the most short-sighted decisions in recent history, and a reflection of how thin-skinned the old guard of women’s basketball must be in viewing their newest phenom.

For all the talent that’s currently out there — and there’s a lot of quality talent — there’s not a player in the league capable of selling out 20,000-seat arenas aside from Caitlin Clark.

Her appearances throughout the country have become major events.

The Indiana Fever’s attendance this season is by far the highest in the league, close to 4,000 higher than the next-best home attendance. The Seattle Storm drew a record 18,343 fans when Clark visited Seattle last month, but have averaged about 10,000 fewer fans than that in their other three home games. That’s not a slight on the loyalty of Storm fans, rather the boost in curiosity that comes with one specific player.

And that specific player isn’t going to the Olympics? It’s crazy. And you give me every excuse in the book, and I’ll still call you crazy.

If team chemistry is the hill you want to die on, I’ll tell you that Team USA is 70-3 all-time at the Olympics, and they’ve won seven consecutive gold medals. You think putting Caitlin Clark on your roster is going to put that streak in jeopardy? I’ve got a bridge to sell you, too.

Then there’s the "merit" argument: "She hasn’t proven herself yet."

Might I remind you of a top-overall draft pick in 2004 that made the Olympic roster as a rookie that year? Her name was Diana Taurasi.

And a top overall pick in 2008 that made the team. Her name was Candace Parker.

And a top overall pick in 2016 that made the team, too. Her name was Breanna Stewart.

But you’re telling me that a player with similar credentials and significantly more popularity than all three of those players had as rookies is not deserving of at least a roster spot?

Here are the stats of all three of those players through June 9 of their respective rookie years: Taurasi averaged 17 points and four assists per game. Parker averaged 18 points and 11 rebounds. Stewie averaged 16.4 points and ten rebounds. Clark is averaging more points than Stewie, more rebounds than Taurasi, and more assists than all three.

But rather than viewing Clark as a means to bring more attention to women’s basketball in front of the entire world, USA Basketball is essentially saying they’re threatened by her presence, for fear of the veterans and old guard feeling slighted. To me, that’s some hyper-sensitivity.

To Clark’s credit, she took the high road today, saying she’s excited for them, saying it’s more motivation for the next Olympic games.

Is Caitlin Clark the best basketball player in the world? Nope. She’s not. But her numbers alone show she’s worthy of a spot.

It’s a shame that USA Basketball has the golden goose that’s laying the golden eggs right in front of them, and actively choosing to ignore it for fear of ruffling the feathers of the other geese.

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