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As women’s sports continue to grow, basketball is at the forefront, with Caitlin Clark’s emergence into the WNBA being instrumental. She captivated much of the United States as she attempted to lead the Iowa Hawkeyes to a national championship. However, she came short of doing so before declaring for the WNBA Draft and being selected first by the Indiana Fever.

Fans are closely following Clark’s transition to the WNBA level. Clark recently admitted that she needs to adjust to ‘Physical’ WNBA. She’s averaging 16.9 points, 6.5 assists, and 5.4 rebounds in 33.4 minutes per game, shooting 37.6 percent overall and 31.0 percent from beyond the arc. While her counting stats have been impressive, her scoring efficiency, along with those volume figures, has a lot of room to improve in the long run.

Shaquille O’Neal’s former NBA agent Leonard Armato (the mastermind behind the Shaq brand) shared his perspective on EssentiallySports FanCast hosted by NBA correspondent Vishal Kolar regarding Clark’s impact on the WNBA and the broader sports landscape.

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Can Caitlin Clark overcome WNBA’s physical challenges like Shaq did in NBA? React!

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What stands out to Armato is just how robust of a fan base Clark has established, proving to be a genuine mass draw for sports fans in a unique way. “The really interesting part about Caitlin in the NCAA championship last year was that it attracted a mass audience,” he said. “Basketball fans were excited to see if she could reach her goal and watching her shoot long-range threes. It was a thrilling moment for women’s sports and women’s basketball.”

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Is Caitlin Clark’s WNBA adjustment tougher than expected? React!

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The fame Clark entered the WNBA with has seemingly provided added difficulty in her adjustment to the highest level. While the unnecessary physicality debate is one of the hottest topics in the WNBA right now, what is clear is Clark entered the league with an almost unparalleled level of respect from the defense. She’s drawn aggressive coverages from the opposing team while even being face-guarded off the ball and picked up very early when initiating the play. Her rivals were well aware of the threat entering their midst.

“Now, as Caitlin Clark moves into the WNBA, Diana Taurasi mentioned that playing against women would be a different experience. I predicted that while she would be successful, she would face many difficulties along the way,” Armato said. “These difficulties include making the transition to playing against a far more elite breed of players. Everyone is going to be gunning for her because Caitlin Clark has an X on her back. People will want to say they stopped her.”

“She has a bit of a target on her back, but she’s a great player and has done so much for women’s sports and basketball,” Armato expressed. “However, the WNBA is the WNBA; you either like the product or you don’t. She’s not going to change it all that much,” he concluded.

Even the best ballers need time to find their groove in the big leagues. Leonard Armato dropped some serious wisdom for the young player on ES FanCast. “Remember that even the greatest of all time struggled at the beginning in one way or another,” he emphasized. “Their talent was undeniable, but there were often many losses and disappointments. You have to persevere to become truly great in the sport.”

Whether it was Michael Jordan or Shaquille O’Neal, it’s taken top players years before winning championships. Accomplishing such a feat requires perseverance through the initial adversity of leading a team through a culture change, which varies in how long it can take.

“Think about it: it took Michael Jordan six seasons to win a championship. He didn’t start winning right away,” Armato said. “It took him a long time to get there, but once he did, you couldn’t take him off the top of the mountain. He had to persevere and push through adversity to succeed. The same with Shaq. It took him a while to win championships, and then he won three in a row. If you’re a great player, if you’re really talented, you’re going to have ups and downs. You have to persevere and have resilience to get to the top of the mountain,” Armato conveyed.

Leonard Armato added, “Once you get to the top, it becomes infectious, and you don’t want to come down. It will be really interesting to see the progression of Caitlin Clark, but all the greats managed to push through adversity and reach the promised land.” Armato had a bundle of references that could work wonders for Clark.

Shaq’s Frustration and Kobe’s Airballs: A Lesson for Caitlin Clark’s WNBA Journey

For O’Neal, the 1997 playoffs were a frustrating time. Kobe Bryant was still adjusting to the NBA and had shot multiple airballs against the Utah Jazz. O’Neal did not want to fulfill his standard media obligations as opposed to skipping out on them and not facing the press.

“I remember when Shaq was with the Lakers, and they lost four straight to the Utah Jazz. It was one of his first years with the Lakers,” Armato referenced. “Kobe Bryant shot air balls in the last game. Shaq was so pissed that he didn’t want to talk to the press. He said, ‘I’m not talking to the press,’ and started to come out of the locker room. I told him, ‘Hold on, you need to go back in there and face the music. You have to face adversity on your way to the promised land.’”

“Some people wondered how I could tell him that when he didn’t want to go back, but as an agent and representative, it’s our job to push them in the right direction,” Armato explained. “Their knee-jerk reaction might not be in their best interest. It’s our duty to coach and counsel them the right way. To his credit, he turned right around, faced the music, faced the press, and said, ‘Next year is going to be different.’ And it was.”

The level of attention Clark has generated individually has resulted in her presence being attributed credit for some developments in the WNBA that aren’t tied to her. For example, some believe her popularity is why the league finalized charter flights for teams, which Armato explained isn’t the case considering that was already in motion. However, her contribution to the general popularity of the league will factor in later during future business transactions.

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“By the way, Caitlin Clark did not get people charter flights. That was something the WNBA players have been lobbying for,” Armato claimed, and added, “Caitlin Clark hasn’t done anything to create more value from the standpoint of media rights and other factors that will result in higher WNBA salaries and more benefits. She’s definitely going to be a big part of the league’s growth and hopefully a catalyst for future growth, but it hasn’t kicked in yet.”

“The fact that she signed with the WNBA didn’t create charter flights,” Armato explained. “Charles Barkley is overstepping a bit when he says that, but at the same time, her comments were much ado about nothing. It wasn’t really that big of a deal.”

There is a lot of added controversial commentary using Clark as the focus early in her career. Armato is impressed with how she’s conducted herself and stayed out of those conversations. He also praised Jeff Schwartz and Excel for representing her and landing lucrative endorsement deals.

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“I think her agents, Jeff Schwartz and the Excel company, have done a really nice job with her,” Armato expressed. “She has a lot of great marketing deals that are lucrative and far exceed her $89,000 WNBA salary. They’ve managed the media well, and I wouldn’t comment on any of these things if I were her. I don’t think she has. She can just go out and play, be gracious, and humble. I think she’s handled herself very nicely.”

So, Caitlin, whether you’re draining threes or breaking ankles on the court, keep this advice close. The journey to greatness is full of challenges, but that’s what builds a true champion.