Fever Dream

As the Fever’s No. 1 WNBA draft pick, college superstar Caitlin Clark is just getting started in a professional career expected to revolutionize the game—and Indiana fans will watch it all unfold on their home court.
A composite photo of Caitlin Clark in her Indiana Fever jersey superimposed over an image of Gainbridge Fieldhouse.
Illustration by Dana Smith/Indianapolis Monthly

CAITLIN CLARK isn’t just another terrific basketball player. She’s not just a young woman who won back-to-back national Player of the Year awards while taking her school, the University of Iowa, to consecutive NCAA final games. She’s not just the leading scorer in the history of college basketball, outpacing both men and women. She is, in a word, transcendent. She is among the greatest college players ever in the women’s game, comparing favorably with Diana Taurasi and Maya Moore. A shooter with unlimited 3-point range and the kind of passing ability that makes everybody around her exponentially better, she has forced those who follow the sport to search for grander superlatives. For example: “We are witnessing a transformational moment in sports that we may not experience for generations,” WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert said the night of the women’s basketball draft. “Our sport has never been stronger.”

Clark, the No. 1 overall pick in the WNBA draft, is heading to the giddy Indiana Fever, where she is poised to become the ultimate change agent in a town that has already painted a downtown mural in her honor. She will not only help turn the Fever—a once-proud team that hasn’t made the playoffs since Tamika Catchings’ WNBA reign—into an elite franchise, but she will also boost business for the WNBA and women’s sports in general.

Because, to put it bluntly, Clark can bring in the crowds. Her Iowa team consistently sold out at home and often on the road in the Big Ten. She plays a feisty, energetic game, and you can’t take your eyes off her on the court. She’s also terrific with fans, who flock to her for autographs after games. In fact, Clark’s popularity is so great, the women’s NCAA final drew more eyeballs to its TV broadcast than the men’s final between Purdue and UConn.

Caitlin Clark smiles as she presents her jersey.
Photo courtesy NBAE/Getty Images

Almost immediately, home and away game tickets for the Fever’s 2024 season flew out of the box office. Clark jerseys sold out in one day. Road teams are accommodating Clark’s arrival in their cities by moving their games to larger venues. Just a day after her introductory press conference in Indianapolis, she signed an eight-figure contract with Nike. Two nights before the WNBA draft in Brooklyn, Clark did a short “Weekend Update” skit with Colin Jost and Michael Che on Saturday Night Live. “I was so nervous,” Clark says with a smile. “I thought my heart was going to beat out of my chest.”

Fever fans know that feeling.

WOMEN’S BASKETBALL has had star power over the years, but no one compares to the 6-foot guard from West Des Moines, Iowa, who has captured the imagination of the country. This isn’t just a sports moment. It’s a cultural touchstone.

And it’s a dream come true for Clark, who as a third grader, wrote down a wish list for her future that featured being drafted by the WNBA. (She also wanted to win the lottery, but, hey, you can’t have everything.) “At times, it doesn’t feel real,” Clark says. “There are so many people who would kill to be in my shoes. I’m lucky to get these moments. I know it can all be taken away in a second, so I just enjoy every single second of it.”

It’s also a dream come true for the Indiana Fever, who’ve seen their business take off in a way they couldn’t have imagined. In the latest sign that everything has changed in the Indy market, WTHR and WALV will telecast 17 Fever games on local, broadcast TV. Meanwhile, the Pacers are stuck on the wonky Bally app (at least for now).

“I can’t think of a better place to start my career, in a place that loves basketball and supports women’s basketball, with an organization that does things the right way.”

Clark could have stayed at Iowa for an additional season—she still had her Covid year—but she chose to make the jump to the WNBA, where she will be the top draw in the league for years to come. She was thrilled when Indiana won the draft lottery and received the first pick. And why not? Her boyfriend, Connor McCaffery, works for the Pacers. As a Midwesterner born and raised in Iowa, she loves the fact that Iowa City, home to the University of Iowa, is just a five-hour drive away and that traveling to Des Moines takes seven. “I was hoping Indiana would get the first pick; it would make my life a lot better,” Clark says. “I can’t think of a better place to start my career, in a place that loves basketball and supports women’s basketball, with an organization that does things the right way and has a championship pedigree.”

Her new team won the WNBA title in 2012 but has struggled mightily on the court since 2016. The Fever averaged a second-to-last total of 4,067 fans per game last summer. And yet, in April, more than 6,000 fans, many of them younger girls, descended on Gainbridge Fieldhouse for a Fever draft party—a turnout that boggles Clark’s mind. “Wow, 6,000 people just to stare at a screen,” Clark muses. Would anyone expect anything less of the biggest draft addition in Indianapolis since Peyton Manning arrived in 1998? And while Manning clearly had a massive impact on the city, Clark’s fan club extends far beyond state lines. There are stars in the WNBA, but none have joined the league with more focus and fanfare than Clark.

Lin Dunn, the Fever’s general manager, grew up before and during the early days of Title IX, back when women were not considered capable of competing in big-time sports. Now, she glances at the TV ratings for the women’s final between Clark’s Iowa team and eventual champ South Carolina—18.7 million viewers, almost four million more than the men—and it touches her heart. “I never thought I’d live to see the day that the women’s game would get better ratings than the men,” says Dunn, who is 76 years old. “Never imagined it.”

Caitlin Clark smiles as she sits beside others at a table with microphones set up in front of each person.
Clark, alongside Fever head coach Christie Sides, met the media during a post-draft press conference at Gainbridge Fieldhouse. Photo courtesy NBAE/Getty Images

The moment Dunn heard Clark was going pro and that the Fever would be the lucky franchise to acquire her, she says, “I fell off my couch.” On draft night, someone asked her how long it took to put Clark’s name in for the first selection. “Fifteen seconds,” she responded at the time, smiling.

THE EXPECTATIONS for this team and for Clark herself may be out of this world, but Clark has lived with pressure all her athletic life, and she has delivered consistently. “Caitlin’s game translates immediately in terms of her range, her ability to hit shots, and her vision,” says ESPN women’s hoops analyst Andraya Carter. “People talk about her scoring, but her passing is next level. She makes the right decisions. She plays the right way. She makes the right read. She gets the ball where it’s supposed to go.”

“And one of the things that’s special is she’s staying in the Midwest; it’s a perfect fit. The hero of the heartland.”

The challenge, Carter says, will be the physicality of going against grown women. “That’s going to be tough. The hits will be harder, the checks will be harder, and the players are going to be faster. Everybody who goes from college to the next level talks about the speed of the game. Any star who comes into the league, teams are going to want to challenge her defensively. But she’ll handle it.”

Says former UConn and WNBA star Rebecca Lobo, now an ESPN analyst, “There’s no comparison [to Clark] that I can find on the women’s side, and I’ve been in this league since the very beginning. We haven’t seen a player drive ticket sales like this, drive ratings like this. And one of the things that’s special is she’s staying in the Midwest; it’s a perfect fit. The hero of the heartland. In terms of attention, we’ve never seen anything close to this.”

Indianapolis is ready for the Caitlin Clark show to roll into town. The crowds are already going wild, and all they have seen so far is the pregame warmup. Clark is a game-changing, business-altering figure, and she’s become one without scoring a single point yet in the WNBA.