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Paul Sullivan: A bad look for the Chicago Sky over a cheap shot — and not a lot of talk — against Caitlin Clark

If Caitlin Clark ever makes it into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame, perhaps she can thank Chennedy Carter during her induction speech.

Carter’s cheap shot against Clark during the third quarter of Saturday’s nationally televised game between the Indiana Fever and Chicago Sky became a trending topic on social media, was discussed during a “Good Morning America” segment on Sunday and helped make the Sky-Fever into a true rivalry.

Carter put a shoulder into Clark during an in-bounds play, knocking her down, and called her a name, according to lip readers. The play was not reviewed and was ruled an away-from-the-ball common foul.

Asked about it during a postgame news conference, Carter replied: “Next question.” Asked again, she said: “I ain’t answering no Caitlin Clark questions.” Asked what Clark had said, Carter said: “I don’t know.” Asked what she said to Clark, Carter responded: “I didn’t say anything.”

Sky coach Teresa Weatherspoon then stopped the questioning with a stern, “That’s enough. We’re good. She’s good.”

The reaction from the cheap shot was to be expected. Carter was widely criticized on social media, including some racist terminology used to describe her actions. And the narrative of Clark taking unnecessary flak from the rest of the WNBA players for taking the spotlight from everyone else gained steam, just after TNT’s Charles Barkley ripped the league’s players for being “petty” in their treatment of the new star.

After the huge outcry Saturday, the WNBA on Sunday reviewed the play and determined it was a Flagrant 1 foul. Too little, too late.

Either way, it was a defining moment for the WNBA, which now has a window of opportunity to get massive publicity with the NBA playoffs in an intermission before the NBA Finals begin Thursday. This kind of controversy can help fuel the league’s growth, as any publicity is good publicity.

Former NBA player and ESPN analyst Austin Rivers said it best in a video posted on social media when he said the WNBA was unfairly ignored for years but is now treating Clark unfairly.

“Now this woman comes along and brings the world in, and is now giving you all the proper attention and respect,” Rivers said. “And you guys are getting these brand deals and getting this money. And instead of being appreciative and acknowledging that, you guys are like coming at her with these hate-ass comments, talking about ‘Oh, well, it’s not just because of her. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Last night our game was sold out and she didn’t play. Last night we flew a charter and she wasn’t on that flight.’

“Let’s stop it. It’s not a coincidence you guys are just now chartering flights her rookie year. It’s not a coincidence that now that she’s in the WNBA, everybody is paying attention to the WNBA. I shouldn’t say everyone, but a lot more people are. OK? It’s not a coincidence. It’s the Caitlin Clark effect.”

Clark is known to be a trash-talker, so perhaps she has to accept that many other players will be gunning for her all season long and she will be on the receiving end of some unnecessary physical contact.

But the jealousy from her fellow WNBA players for lifting the league into another stratosphere with her fame and talent level is obvious. And it’s reminiscent of when several NBA stars froze out Bulls rookie Michael Jordan during the 1985 All-Star Game in Indianapolis.

The famous “freeze-out game,” reportedly engineered by Detroit Pistons star and Chicagoan Isiah Thomas, became part of the Jordan legend. His All-Star teammates kept the ball away from the Bulls rookie in an attempt to embarrass him and put him in his place, even as he was elevating the NBA to a higher level. Jordan’s performance in the slam dunk contest was considered “showboating.”

According to the Chicago Tribune report by Sam Smith, one writer from Detroit said, ”The attitude of the players was Michael Jordan will get star treatment when he learns how to act like a gentleman.”

During his Hall of Fame induction speech, Jordan sarcastically thanked Thomas, Magic Johnson and George Gervin for their participation in the freeze-out.

“They say it was a so-called ‘freeze-out’ in my rookie season,” Jordan said. “You guys gave me the motivation to say ‘You know what, evidently I haven’t proved enough to these guys. I gotta prove to them that I deserve what I’ve gotten on this level.’”

Jordan went on to do just that, and when he took a physical beating from the Pistons’ “Bad Boys” it steeled him in his drive to win championships and become the greatest player of all time.

Clark may not be like Mike. But like Jordan, she’s simply going to have to prove herself over and over again. No matter the complaints of her coach or the team’s owner, this treatment is probably not going to stop. Clark will be on the receiving end of flagrant fouls again. “Mean Girls” might be the updated version of the “Bad Boys.”

On a separate note, the lack of accountability from Carter after the game was unfortunate, and Weatherspoon’s unilateral decision to stop the questioning about an incident that happened during the game is unacceptable as well.

This is professional basketball, not college. Just answer the questions and stop acting petulant.

Sky rookie Angel Reese was fined $1,000 by the league on Sunday for failing to make herself available for postgame interviews. The Sky were also hit with a $5,000 fine for not having all players adhere to the WNBA media policy.

Reese apparently is fine with all the publicity she gets for her shoes or outfits or her appearance at the Met Gala. But she can’t talk about her first meeting against Clark?

Just a bad look for the Sky on Saturday. Don’t complain about a lack of media attention when you act like this.

Remember, the Sky-Fever game was scheduled for national TV because it featured the league’s two most recognized rookies — Clark and Reese. Like it or not, their rivalry from college will be part of their narrative forever, so deal with it.

Both teams are in rebuilding mode, so without Clark and Reese playing it would be like the NBA scheduling a nationally televised game between the Pistons and the Washington Wizards.

The rematch between the Sky and Fever in Indianapolis on June 16 will air nationally on CBS.

The ratings should be a smash.

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