Caitlin Clark's presence draws comparisons to two Birds as Indiana Fever contemplate playoff run

Indiana Fever general manager Lin Dunn started media day being asked to compare Caitlin Clark to two Birds — Sue, who Dunn took as the WNBA"s top overall draft pick in 2002, and Larry, who turned the Boston Celtics into an immediate title contender

Michael Marot
Wednesday 01 May 2024 20:38 BST

Just a few minutes into the Indiana Fever's media day, general manager Lin Dunn was asked to compare Caitlin Clark to a pair of Birds — Sue, who Dunn drafted No. 1 overall in 2002, and Larry, who turned the NBA's Boston Celtics into an instant contender in 1979.

Whether Clark's career takes off like theirs remains to be seen.

For now, Dunn wants the Fever's 22-year-old star rookie to focus on getting acclimated to the pro level, getting in sync with her new teammates and focusing on making the playoffs. The rest can be debated later.

“I see many characteristics between Sue Bird and Caitlin Clark some 20 years later,” Dunn said Wednesday. “When I look at the great guards I've seen over how many years now, 28 years, Caitlin has the potential. If she stays healthy, adapts quickly to the physicality of this league, she has the potential to have that kind of career."

Clark's presence already has created waves for a franchise trying to end a seven-year postseason drought.

Ticket sales are surging in Indiana and around the league, 36 of the Fever's 40 regular-season games are scheduled for national television and the buzz around town hasn't been seen since Tamika Catchings retired following the 2016 season.

Another big change: Security.

Clark's popularity, her collision with a fan during a court-storming at Ohio State last season and last spring's airport run-in involving Brittney Griner have prompted Indiana to put a premium on safety with the first big test coming at Friday's preseason opener in Dallas.

“I'm sure everybody would say they'd rather be flying charter all the time, and that definitely would help,” Clark said. “But I think the Fever organization has done a really good job getting ahead of things. There's going to be a lot of security traveling with us, there will be certain plans of how we're going to navigate through airports. It's not just for us, it's for everybody in the WNBA. Everybody has to navigate it.”

On the court, Clark also has changed things.

Coach Christie Sides already has detected how Clark's trademark logo 3-pointers will help Indiana space the floor and her teammates have raved about Clark's nifty, crisp passes.

The combination has some outside the organization projecting a championship run. Inside Gainbridge Fieldhouse, though, the expectations are more grounded.

“Like Lin said, the idea of winning a championship right away — let's be realistic,” Sides said. “When you talk to players, they're always thinking we can win today, we can win every day. Our main goal is we want to make the playoffs. That's our main goal, but we have a plan in place and steps we want to make sure we don't skip so we can obtain more sustainable success.”

She's hoping to follow in the footprints of the two Birds, who both led their teams on title runs.

Larry Bird won championships and three MVP awards with the Celtics before returning to the league as coach and later president of basketball operations with his home-state Indiana Pacers. Sue Bird won five Olympic gold medals and four titles playing with the Seattle Storm and is now part of the team's ownership group.

With Clark being paired with 6-foot-5 forward Aliyah Boston, last's season's unanimous league rookie of the year, it's hard not to think big.

“We can expand who we are in so many ways on and off the floor but especially on the floor," longtime guard Kelsey Mitchell said. “We can do so many different things in so many different ways, scoring and defending the ball and just being aggressive because we are young. But, more importantly, we're developing a great chemistry together.”

And while Dunn acknowledges there are plenty of promising signs for the future of Clark and Indiana, she's also doing her part to politely downplay immediate expectations with the hope Clark's career will soar like the Birds.

“Let's hope she has the impact on this franchise that Larry had on his franchise," Dunn said. “I think the great thing about her is that she makes everybody better on the court when she's out there. She has that impact on people, she's very unselfish and she's an excellent passer. Does she have the potential to have a huge impact on our program? I think so.”



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