NBA commissioner Adam Silver: Caitlin Clark attention is 'very healthy' for WNBA

Silver also addresses potential NBA expansion

BROOKLYN, NY - JUNE 02:  Caitlin Clark #22 of the Indiana Fever defends the ball during the game against the New York Liberty on June 2, 2024 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.  (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Caitlin Clark's rookie year has been a mixed bag. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The discourse around Caitlin Clark reached the back halls of the NBA Finals on Thursday, as NBA commissioner Adam Silver addressed the WNBA's most high-profile rookie ever.

Asked for his reaction to Chicago Sky guard Chennedy Carter's hard foul on Clark and his broader concerns about the No. 1 overall pick's first few weeks in the WNBA, Silver was mostly diplomatic. He praised Clark and her impact on women's basketball, but acknowledged she wasn't solely responsible for its current success:

"Other than as a fan, obviously, it's nothing new in basketball that there's sort of 'welcome to the league' moments, especially for heralded rookies, but, of course, I want to see Caitlin treated fairly and appropriately in the league.

"I would say it seems like she can take care of herself. She's a tough player. I think it may be lost on some people that are new to basketball, in terms of a little bit of controversy in the WNBA, what an incredible talent she is: two Final Fours, leading scorer in the history of college basketball. I look forward to watching her ongoing development in the league.

"I think ultimately this is very healthy for women's basketball and the WNBA. It's generating tremendous additional interest. In fairness to the other players and in fairness to Commissioner [Cathy] Engelbert, this didn't just start this year. Certainly we're seeing an acceleration of it with Caitlin, but many individual stars who came in this league in the last several years."

The Carter foul has become a massive well of controversy for the WNBA, but not really because of the foul itself. It was just the catalyst.

Few will argue that Carter's shoulder check into Clark was an acceptable basketball play; the real sticking points are whether the backlash against Carter has been proportionate and if Clark is receiving special treatment. The aftermath became particularly ugly Wednesday when Sky players reported that Carter was harassed by a man with a camera at a team hotel in Washington, D.C.

One point of contention that was brought up was ESPN commentator Pat McAfee's description of Clark as a "white b**** for the Indiana team," while dismissing the rest of her rookie class. McAfee, who works for one of the NBA's partner networks, has since apologized, with Clark reportedly forgiving him. Silver expressed a hope to move on, but painted McAfee's comment as something that just happens in the media from time to time:

"He apologized, and I accept that. I think that the way media works these days, when people are online for hours, they're going to occasionally misstep. I think what's important is the context, their intention and sort of what they're willing to say about having done that. I leave it to ESPN to make their own personnel decisions about the consequences of things like that. But I accept sort of in a free society, where there's a lot of conversation, a lot of dialogue, and I think it's for the WNBA, of course, it's going to be a two-edged sword."

Outside of the Carter foul, Clark's rookie season has so far been difficult. Her Indiana Fever hold a 2-9 record and she leads the WNBA in turnovers, though her overall stats have her as the favorite to be the WNBA Rookie of the Year. Simply put, no other rookie is being asked to do what Clark is doing for the Fever.

Silver also addressed the prospect of NBA expansion, which he made very clear would only be feasible once the league has wrapped up its new set of media deals.

The NBA, which has remained at 30 teams since 2004, has seen expansion speculation for years, but Silver poured cold water on the idea that anything is imminent. He also mentioned the league could look outside the United States for potential new markets:

There are clearly markets out there that are very interested and will run through a process.

But I actually am looking forward to that. I think that the league, it's not preordained that we will expand this time, but I know there's an enormous amount of interest out there. And to me, yes, there are wealthy individuals, institutions that would like to invest and buy NBA teams, but I think it's on the league to look holistically because there is the dilution, of course.

Let's say we expand by two teams. What does that mean for talent? I feel great about where the talent is right now in the league, but those players have to come from somewhere. If you add two teams, how does it work geographically? What will it mean for growing the game?

At some point, we'd like to look outside the United States, in addition to Canada. This may not be the right moment to do that, but I'm thinking long term, as well."