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    Friday, May 24, 2024

    The Clark Effect fills Mohegan Sun Arena on opening day for the WNBA

    Youth basketball players greet Indiana Fever’s Caitlin Clark as she runs through the tunnel for warmups before a WNBA game against the Connecticut Sun at Mohegan Sun Arena on Tuesday. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Brionna Jones of the Connecticut Sun celebrates a foul call with teammates during a WNBA game Tuesday against the Indiana Fever at Mohegan Sun Arena. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Indiana Fever’s Caitlin Clark cheers with a teammate after being introduced before a WNBA game against Connecticut Sun on Tuesday at Mohegan Sun Arena. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Connecticut Sun’s Alyssa Thomas, right, reaches for a ball during a WNBA game at Mohegan Sun Arena on Tuesday. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Mohegan — Three hours before tipoff and the line to enter Mohegan Sun Arena snaked into the retail area of the casino, well beyond the box office lobby and nearly to the waterfall bar Tuesday night. This was the best evidence yet that of all the gin joints in all the world, Caitlin Clark walked into this one.

    The result was an in-full-throat sellout crowd, split among fans wearing orange Connecticut Sun jerseys and Clark jerseys both from her days in college at Iowa and now with the Indiana Fever, the Sun’s opening night opponent.

    “The energy in here, you just can’t describe it,” said Moises Pagan of New London, the dad of two very accomplished local women’s basketball players, sitting in section 26.

    The night’s meaning was deep for Pagan, who has been watching girls’ and women’s basketball for almost 20 years. India Pagan played on New London High’s 2017 state championship team and later for the Puerto Rican Olympic team. Taina Pagan was also a Whaler and played at Post University. Both daughters and their mother, Carmen, were in attendance.

    “I can’t wait for tipoff,” Moises Pagan said. “When my girls played, it wasn’t like this. This is so great for women’s basketball. We’ve come a long way.”

    Speaking of the concept of “we,” introducing Bob and Elaine Plecs of Ledyard, Sun season ticket holders for 18 years, who were very happy to talk about anyone else but Clark.

    “It’s not just about one person,” Elaine Plecs said.

    “Plenty of great players are here and will play here this year,” Bob Plecs said. “Players who have won championships and (Olympic) gold medals. (Clark) hasn’t done any of that. All she does is score.”

    Still, the Clark Effect was palpable in the arena. And this was a good thing, per Sun coach Stephanie White.

    “I'm excited for new fans to see our players,” White said. “Everybody who has been there from the beginning certainly knows and understands what this organization and players are about, but you're getting a whole new set of eyeballs.

    “One of the things I'm most excited about is that the players who came before are finally getting recognized. We're going back and we're talking about the players who laid the foundation for this game and for the opportunities that our young people are able to benefit from right now.”

    The Sun issued well more than 150 media credentials for the game. Even some of the biggest outlets in the country, including the New York Post, Boston Globe and Time magazine had media seats in the upper reaches of the arena. Many Sun season ticket holders who normally have courtside seats were bumped into the stands to accommodate media requests.

    But then, this has been Clark’s influence, even before she played a regular-season game. The WNBA Draft broke viewership records, drawing more eyes than any WNBA game since 2000. The league is also facing record ticket demands, adding two expansion franchises and launching a full charter program for the first time.

    And as Mohegan Sun Arena (just under 10,000 seats) was full, other WNBA teams have already moved Fever games to bigger arenas. The Los Angeles Sparks are moving from the 4,200-seat Walter Pyramid (at Long Beach State) to the 19,067-seat Crypto.com Arena (the former Staples Center); the Washington Mystics have moved their game against Indiana from the 4,000-seat Entertainment and Sports Arena to the downtown, 20,356-seat Capital One Arena, home of the Washington Wizards.

    m.dimauro@theday.com

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