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Caitlin Clark to Sabrina Ionescu: the Rise of Women's Basketball


Fri, March 08

Women's basketball and the WNBA have long been subject to discrimination and dismissive eyes. The WNBA was founded in 1996 as a counterpart to the NBA, with only twelve teams, in contrast to the NBA's thirty. The Las Vegas Aces currently hold as defending champions with two consecutive wins, a feat which has not been accomplished since 2001.

As we near the start of the WNBA season on May 14, statistics show that its popularity and viewership are marking historic peaks. With names such as Sabrina Ionescu and Caitlin Clark circulating the internet, there is no doubt that women's basketball is on the rise.

Image Credit: John Mac from Wikimedia Commons

Sabrina Ionescu

Last year, in the WNBA's All-Star game, Sabrina Ionescu knocked down 37 points in the 3-point shooting contest, breaking Stephen Curry's previous record of 31 points. Just several weeks ago, Curry challenged Ionescu to the first NBA-WNBA match-up in a 3-point shootout: Sabrina Ionescu versus Stephen Curry. The event turned out to steal the show, and, although Curry caught fire in the last several seconds, edging ahead of Ionescu and winning the challenge, Sabrina has become the pioneer in bringing the WNBA into international headlines.

Ionescu was ranked No. 1 in point guards in 2016, and No. 4 overall in the recruiting class of that year. She had a stellar college basketball career, winning multiple national-level awards including the Honda Sports Award as the best female collegiate basketball player in the nation. In 2020, the New York Liberty selected Ionescu as the first overall pick.

Last season, the New York Liberty ended the regular season as first in the Eastern Conference and second in the league, though eventually falling to the Las Vegas Aces. Ionescu has broken multiple records, including being the first WNBA player to record a 30-point triple-double.

Image Credit: John Mac from Wikimedia Commons

Caitlin Clark

At the age of 22, before even entering the WNBA, Caitlin Clark is already regarded as one of the greatest basketball players in women's college basketball history. She received her first letter of interest from Missouri State in seventh grade and was ranked a five-star recruit and fourth in her class by ESPN. Clark entered college basketball for the first time in 2020 for Iowa.

Immediately after joining Iowa, she recorded her first game with 27 points, and her second game with a triple-double. Caitlin Clark won all of the major national Player of the Year awards and was the first unanimous national player in history. On February 15, 2024, Clark hit a career-high 49 points in a win over Michigan.

Caitlin Clark is known for her incredible versatility and her ability to score from anywhere on the court, whether that be in the paint, mid-range, or far beyond the three-point line, drawing comparisons to Stephen Curry. After Sabrina Ionescu's loss to Curry in the three-point contest, NBA superstar Shaquille O'Neal stated, “Can we continue this? …Can it be Caitlin Clark versus Steph next year?”

Image Credit: Lorie Shaull from Wikimedia Commons

Kelsey Plum

Winning back-to-back championships with the Las Vegas Aces in 2022 and 2023, Kelsey Plum has cemented herself as one of the greatest and most influential women's basketball players contributing to the rise of modern women's basketball. Plum had an incredible college career, ending with a point total of 3527, 270 points behind Pete Maravich, who holds the all-time scoring record. As the first pick of the 2017 WNBA draft, Plum was selected by the San Antonio Stars.

In 2018, the Stars relocated and renamed themselves the Las Vegas Aces. With an injury, Plum missed the entire 2020 season. In 2022, Plum held a starting role (in contrast to her bench role in 2021) and had her first All-Star appearance, as well as her first All-Star MVP. She led the Las Vegas Aces to their first championship in franchise history.

Kelsey Plum held the record for the most career points in NCAA history, which Caitlin Clark just recently broke. Clark is on track to break Pete Maravich's record as well. When asked to speak about Clark breaking her record, Plum stated: “I'm actually very grateful to pass that baton. I'm very happy for her. If anything, make sure we show her love… I'm excited for her.”

Image Credit: Danny Karwoski from Wikimedia Commons

Breanna Stewart

First overall pick in the 2016 WNBA draft, 2016 Rookie of the Year, top 25 players in WNBA history, Breanna Stewart is no doubt one of the greatest women's basketball players on the court right now. She was drafted by the Seattle Storm and Stewart would go on to win the Storms their first championship in 8 years in 2018. Stewart won both Finals MVP and league MVP, becoming the 6th person to do so in WNBA history.

Stewart is often praised for her smoothness in passing the ball, dribbling the ball, and shooting the ball, essentially the three most significant aspects of the game. Her signature move, faking left to right, and finally spinning away from the defender for a majestic fadeaway, is nearly unbeatable. Stewart has only recently signed with the New York Liberty, with Sabrina Ionescu. This duo, Sabrina's incredible range, and Breanna's mid-range lethality are things to look out for in the coming season!

Image Credit: All-Pro Reels from Wikimedia Commons

Dozens of other players have been bringing attention to women's basketball including Angel Reese, Diana Taurasi, and Sue Bird, among many others. The four listed above are only the tip of the pyramid. As the players grow in skill and ability, there is no doubt that the WNBA and women's basketball will grow in popularity and reach.

With Caitlin Clark bringing international attention to women's basketball, and Sabrina Ionescu strengthening the ties between the WNBA and the NBA, the popularity of women's basketball is on the rise. The WNBA draft audience increased by 42% from 2022 to 2023. For the past decade, interest in women's basketball has grown exponentially, known as the “Caitlin Clark effect.” We wait with enthusiasm and excitement to see what this year's WNBA season brings us!

Samuel Teoh
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Samuel Teoh is a homeschooled high school sophomore in Taiwan. He is the News & Media Director of AspirAsian, a Senior Editor and Video Editor for Polyphony Lit, and a published author. He is passionate about identity and self-expression, whether through writing, art, or film. His favorite pastimes are drinking bubble tea, listening to K-pop (especially NewJeans!), and reading/writing stories.