Caitlin Clark and Angel Reese Credit: ESPN

The WNBA couldn’t have asked for a better scenario than what has been gifted to the league with Angel Reese and Caitlin Clark, arguably the two biggest names in women’s basketball at this very moment.

Yes, the league still has Diana Taurasi, who has clearly been bathing in a fountain of youth as she continues to play at a high level at the ripe old age of 42 (by pro athlete standards). A’ja Wilson, fresh off releasing her new logo for her first signature shoe with Nike, is dominating every time she steps on the court. Kahleah Copper, Napheesa Collier, Alyssa Thomas — the list of talented veterans goes on and on.

But it’s the rookies, particularly Clark and Reese, making the headlines.

Now that the larger discourse has drifted away from toxicity and false narratives, and is becoming more focused on the game and the talent on the court, we can finally enjoy this matchup for what it is. It has become must-see TV and appointment-viewing every time Chicago and Indiana play.

There’s been some talk and comparison about Clark and Reese being to the WNBA and what Bird and Magic were to the NBA. When talking about attention, star power, and talent, it’s hard not to agree with that sentiment. Clark and Reese have the same potential. We’ve already seen the direct impact they both are having when it comes to viewership, social media interaction, attendance, merchandise sales, and increased coverage.

Bird and Magic brought in a whole new wave of fans, excitement, thrilling play, and competitiveness as soon as they stepped foot in the NBA. It was a necessary injection that jumpstarted the league’s heart and helped transform it from a floundering enterprise and setting it on a direct course to become the juggernaut that it is today.

“I was wracking my brain yesterday trying to think of another college player rivalry that translated from women’s college basketball to the W and couldn’t think of a single one,” says long-time ESPN’s WNBA analyst Rebecca Lobo. “Bird and Magic seem like the best comparison to me.”

For decades, the WNBA has struggled to bridge the gap between the college and professional levels. Fans didn’t necessarily follow their favorite college players into the WNBA. It’s as if when they graduated, it was out of sight, out of mind.

Now, with NIL in play, women’s college basketball players are building their own brand and visibility. They have large platforms on social media and thousands, if not millions, of followers. Combine that with the increase in media coverage and accessibility of games at the college level, and these players have already established fanbases even before they go pro. Once they get drafted into the WNBA, those brands, platforms, and fanbases are not only following them, but they are expanding. Clark and Reese were already stars in their own right before the WNBA. Now, they are even bigger.

Since the NCAA Women’s Championship game between LSU and Iowa in April 2023, Clark and Reese have faced off on the court five times. And every single time, it’s been a recipe for sports magic, full of incredible team and individual performances with a little trash talk, drama, and intrigue thrown in for some extra spice.

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The WNBA couldn’t have planned it better. Indiana took Clark at No. 1 and Chicago landed Reese at No. 7. They were the perfect landing spots for both players. Clark joined a young and talented squad with room to grow in a midwestern city that bleeds basketball. Reese joined a revamped roster in a bright-light big-city atmosphere where hustle is just as respected off the court as it is on it.

The storylines don’t stop there.

Indiana’s head coach Christie Sides is only in her second season, looking to get the Fever back into the playoffs for the first time since 2016 and prove she is the right person for the job. Teresa Weatherspoon, a first-year head coach with Chicago, has the WNBA resume and reputation as a former player who gave everything she had every time she stepped on the court. Her coaching style embodies that mindset.

Add in the highly publicized history between Clark and Reese, plus additional high-profile characters in Aliyah Boston and NaLyssa Smith for Indiana and Chennedy Carter and Kamilla Cardoso for Chicago, and the conversations surrounding these two teams are endless.

The WNBA has been waiting for this moment. For these stars. And it’s not to say there haven’t been stars before. But when you add it all up — the advent of social media, increase in visibility and accessibility, growing talent, mainstream crossover, endorsement deals, etc. — plus the appeal of a budding rivalry between Clark and Reese and two young teams, it all feeds energetically off of one another to create the perfect storm.

Of course, Bird and Magic went on to be two of the greatest basketball players in the history of the NBA. Both of their teams — the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers — became dynasties and won multiple championships. Clark and Reese are off to good individual starts, with Reese becoming the first rookie in league history to accrue eight straight double-doubles and Clark becoming the fastest rookie to reach 100 assists since WNBA legend Sue Bird. If they can help lift their prospective teams to consistent championship contenders, meeting each other in the playoffs of the WNBA Finals for years to come, the Bird and Magic comparison would be solidified.

Right now, Indiana is in ninth place in the WNBA standings. Chicago is sitting in the eighth spot. Only eight teams make the playoffs. What happens from here is anyone’s guess. But it will be worth watching every step of the way.

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It almost seems too perfect, as if the stars truly aligned for the WNBA. The stars in this case are Caitlin Clark and Angel Reese.

About Lyndsey D'Arcangelo

Lyndsey D’Arcangelo is a seasoned sports writer, author and women’s sports advocate. She previously wrote about women’s basketball for The Athletic and is the co-author of Hail Mary: The Rise and Fall of the National Women’s Football League.