A sellout for a WNBA exhibition game? Welcome to the league’s Caitlin Clark era

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Clark got her first taste of professional basketball against the Dallas Wings on Friday.

The Caitlin Clark era has officially arrived on the court in the WNBA. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — More than three hours before Caitlin Clark made her WNBA debut with the Indiana Fever in an exhibition game against the Dallas Wings on Friday night, some fans among the sellout crowd were lined up outside the arena dressed in No. 22 University of Iowa jerseys.

Christina Edge, who lived in Iowa for 35 years before moving to the Dallas suburb of Rowlett three years ago, said arriving that early at the University of Texas-Arlington’s College Park Center would increase her chances of landing a photo with the basketball phenomenon who was the two-time national player of the year with the Iowa Hawkeyes.

“It’s my birthday,” said Edge, who said her son gave her the ticket as a birthday gift, “and I just want a picture with her!” She carried a bright yellow posterboard sign advertising that plea.

Pailynn Amos, 9, was also outside the arena wearing a yellow Clark jersey with her own sign — “When I grow up I wanna be just like her.”

Rebecca Amos, Pailynn’s mother, made the approximately hour-long drive from the town of Ennis.

“I watched her (on TV) like crazy,” Rebecca said. “So, she (Pailynn) just kind of grew to her. Then we were like, ‘Wow, now she’s in Dallas.’ We could actually go see her!”

Clark received a rousing ovation before tipoff when introduced with Indiana’s starters.

The WNBA’s first preseason game was played the same night that the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks hosted the LA Clippers in Game 6 of a first-round playoff series about 20 miles away.

The exhibition game was the first of two for the Fever before Clark will make her regular-season debut on May 14 at the Connecticut Sun.

Clark, whose long-range shooting and spectacular passing made for must-see TV while taking Iowa to the last two NCAA women’s national title games, said after the morning shootaround she had no statistical goals for Friday’s game.

“Did you give it every single thing you had? I think that’s the biggest thing,” Clark said. “I want to step out onto the court, and then I want to leave the court tonight and feel like I played like Caitlin Clark’s played my entire life.”

The game sold out all 6,251 seats soon after it was announced on Dallas’ schedule, specifically requested by Wings president and CEO Greg Bibb soon after Clark declared in February she would leave college for the WNBA with one year of eligibility remaining. Indiana won the lottery for this year’s first pick last December.

A local television crew recorded the Fever’s arrival at DFW International Airport on Thursday. During Clark’s media session on Friday morning, she addressed the request to sign a couple’s ultrasound picture.

“That was definitely a first,” she said with a laugh.

“I think it’s going to be loud tonight, probably the loudest preseason game I’ve ever been part of,” said Wings center Kalani Brown. “It’s really great that Caitlin’s bringing all this attention to women’s basketball, so I’m really grateful for that. It’s great for our game.”

Wings forward Maddy Segrist said, “Hopefully it’s not too many Indiana fans.”

“This is what women’s basketball has deserved for quite some time now,” said Fever center Aliyah Boston, last season’s WNBA rookie of the year and the women’s collegiate player of the year before Clark’s run. “It’s better late than never. I’m really excited for what’s to come for this league.”

The Wings last month said they had sold out their season-ticket allotment, which accounts for about 2,500 seats.

Indiana will return to College Park Center to play twice during the regular season, on July 17 in the last game before the WNBA’s nearly month-long Olympic hiatus and one day after the MLB All-Star Game is played at the Texas Rangers’ home stadium less than three miles away. The Fever also play there Sept. 1.

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