Plaschke: Caitlin Clark cut from the Olympics? This snub stinks

FILE - Indiana Fever guard Caitlin Clark signs autographs for fans before the start of WNBA basketball game against the New York Liberty, Saturday, May 18, 2024, in New York. (AP Photo/Noah K. Murray, File)

She has been shoved, smacked, walloped and whacked.

She’s been hip-checked, hammered, steamrollered and smothered.

In the last month, Caitlin Clark has endured the typical rough initiation into the world of women’s professional basketball, and while some of it reeks of resentment, most of it has been fair.

Until now.

What the USA women’s basketball committee is doing to her — and to millions of new women’s basketball fans — is misguided, short-sighted and just plain wrong.

Clark, the most popular women’s basketball player in the world, is being body-slammed out of the Olympics.

Read more: Caitlin Clark is left off Team USA roster for Paris Olympics

In a story first reported by the Athletic, the 12-player Team USA women’s roster for this summer’s Paris Games will not include the one player the world wants to see there.

Clark, the greatest scorer in college basketball history and a decent WNBA rookie, has been cut.

A dozen spots, yet they couldn’t make room for the kid who just scored 30 points in the WNBA’s most-attended game in 17 years.

A dozen uniforms, yet they couldn’t find one for the kid who would fill the stands and sizzle the ratings and universally grow the game.

It was reported Clark is one of three alternates to potentially replace any one of the 12 who is unable to play, but don’t kid yourself.

They don’t want her. They don’t think they need her. They make no sense. They defy logic. They deviate from history.

Christian Laettner had no NBA experience when he was included on the 1992 Olympics Dream Team … yet Caitlin Clark is not making this one?

Diana Taurasi was a WNBA rookie when she made the 2004 Olympics team, and had similar stats to Clark at the time … yet 20 years later Caitlin Clark is not good enough?

Diana Taurasi, left, and Sue Bird pose for photos after winning their fifth Olympic gold medals at the Tokyo Games.
Diana Taurasi, left, and Sue Bird pose for photos after winning their fifth Olympic gold medals at the Tokyo Games. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Granted, the 12 women reportedly on the roster are the best in the world, from A’ja Wilson to Alyssa Thomas to the G.O.A.T. Taurasi.

Yes, there are no WNBA rookies here, and only three who will be making their first Olympic appearance, and all three newcomers are bonafide stars — Thomas, Kahleah Copper and Sabrina Ionescu.

And, of course, the USA women don’t require any more talent, they have a lifetime Olympics record of 70-3 with seven consecutive gold medals as one of the most dominating teams in sports history.

What the women do need, though, are eyeballs. What their game needs is worldwide growth. What this team needs is a reason for the casual fan to watch.

With the roster as currently constituted, none of that is happening. I can confirm this from experience. I have covered 10 Olympics and rarely did I venture to the women’s tournament because there was little interest and no buzz amid solid veterans playing to a foregone conclusion.

With Clark, everything changes. With Clark, there will be deafening buzz, overwhelming interest, millions watching.

With Clark on the team, even if she just plays a few minutes a game, the greatness of the USA women’s game and its newfound popularity will be amplified, accentuated and celebrated.

And isn’t that the role of the USA women’s basketball committee? To not only win a gold medal, but to make that medal shine by putting the USA dynasty in the best possible light?

How is a team without Caitlin Clark doing this? What sort of discussions about the future of USA women’s basketball would not include her? What on earth are they thinking?

You don’t want to know.

Read more: Granderson: Caitlin Clark can handle the bruises of being a WNBA rookie

My esteemed colleague Christine Brennan of USA Today wrote that two sources told her, “concern over how Clark’s millions of fans would react to what would likely be limited playing time on a stacked roster was a factor in the decision making.”

There it is. They’re worried about all the attention she would receive. They’re concerned that she would steal some applause from the longtime veterans.

This is some of the same baloney that has quietly led to some of the on-court rough stuff. Some players are acting territorial. Others are being vindictive. There is a hint of resentment.

And here comes the USA women’s basketball committee, following their players’ lead, doing quite possibly the dumbest thing imaginable, telling America’s star-spangled superstar to stuff it.

They don’t realize that Caitlin Clark’s success is not an indication of their failure. It’s quite the opposite. Her success is a precursor for everyone’s success.

If she goes to Paris, it’s not a distraction, it’s a delight. How cool would it be to see a filled arena chanting Clark’s name while urging her to be substituted into the final minutes of a blowout? How awesome would it be for social media to be debating the rotations of the women’s team after every game?

With Clark on the bench, this would not be the routine Olympic women’s tournament the USA quietly dominates. It would be loud and messy and wonderful, women’s basketball given NFL-like attention for two weeks, the world watching us grow.

There were reports that Clark didn’t make the team because she didn’t show up at the team’s final training camp this spring. Sorry. She was busy leading Iowa to the Final Four.

Candace Parker, right, blocks a shot by the Liberty's Epiphanny Prince during a game in 2017.
Sparks star Candace Parker, blocking a shot by the Liberty's Epiphanny Prince in 2017, says players getting snubbed for the U.S. Olympic team is nothing new. (Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)

One can only hope that at some point, both players and officials will realize what the rest of the country has long since figured out.

Clark doesn’t steal attention, she brings it. She doesn’t hog the cheers, she doubles them. She’s not only getting rich, she’s making everyone around her richer.

By not jumping on this train, Team USA is going to be obliterated by it.

All the talk in Paris will still be about Clark, only now she won’t be there to answer it herself, and Team USA will get tired of talking about her, and the whole organization will come across as petty.

These people have had snub issues before, remember.

Nothing is as bad as what happened to Candace Parker, who played in college at Tennessee, getting snubbed from the 2016 Olympics because she said Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma didn’t want her on the team. And she was a two-time WNBA MVP at the time!

Then, several years later, fellow former Sparks star Nneka Ogwumike was snubbed by the 2021 Tokyo team for equally odd reasons.

“There's a number of players who are deserving ... but how many times are we gonna say it's unfair?" Parker told reporters at the time. "How many times are we gonna say it's not politics? I think we all know that.”

The irony is that this latest snub is probably the best thing to happen to Caitlin Clark personally. She has been playing nonstop for almost a year, a full season at Iowa followed immediately by her WNBA work. She could use the Olympic break.

Yet it’s still a shocker, and not just for the average fan.

Two months ago, former Sparks great Lisa Leslie, when asked about Clark and the Olympics, told the Sporting News, “I don’t know how you leave the country without her.”

Team USA officials just figured out a way, and shame on them.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.