June 27, 2024 

Fever-Sky may not be a rivalry, but it’s certainly something

The battle isn't at that level ... yet

CHICAGO — Indiana Fever guard Caitlin Clark and Chicago Sky head coach Teresa Weatherspoon both made their stances clear ahead of a matchup between their teams Sunday: It’s not a rivalry.

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“I’m pretty sure the only people that view this as a rivalry is all of you,” Clark said, gesturing her hand toward the media members in the room two days before the battle. “For us, it’s just a game of basketball.”

Weatherspoon agreed. “We haven’t done anything to consider this a rivalry,” she said Sunday afternoon before the game. She noted that the teams are close in proximity.

The term “rival” has no strict definition in sports. It toggles between a loosely used term that describes an otherwise meaningless game to a strictly protected word that requires two teams to meet certain emotional parameters. In this instance, the latter is more apt. The Sky and Fever are two young teams with stars who are on the same building timeline, and they are close in the standings. Their games already hold intrigue.

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Key parties for both franchises have shared that they don’t feel like the other team is a rival. Often in sports, rivalries are born out of playoff competition, especially repeated ones, and these squads haven’t met on that stage yet. Certain players — Clark, Aliyah Boston, Angel Reese, Victaria Saxton and Kamilla Cardoso — were a part of such high-profile games against one another at the collegiate level. That adds something to Fever-Sky, both in terms of juice and popularity, but it isn’t enough for the matchup to reach rival status, at least not yet.

But it has become clear that these games come with a certain emotion. The buzz around the game, the clash in basketball strategy, the close nature of each battle, and plenty of other factors have turned Indiana-Chicago into must-see TV.

They say that styles make fights, and that is perhaps the standout feature of these games. The Sky, thanks to rookies Cardoso and Reese, live in the lane: Chicago leads the league in points in the paint. The Fever play faster and play through the paint but often do so via guards. Kelsey Mitchell and Clark keep things in motion and help Indiana get up long-range shots.

“I think it’s just a great display of basketball,” Clark said of the matchup.

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All three clashes have been dynamite. They were all within eight points, and the current margin favors Indiana, which is plus-eight with a 2-1 edge in the season series, but the final minutes have defined each outing. Creating any separation on the scoreboard has been impossible.

That has made for a terrific viewing experience — not that these games need them. Every time, the crowd is packed. The television product peaked at more than three million viewers this past Sunday. Epic games have undoubtedly upped those numbers, but the volume comes in part due to the many key figures in the game.

“You can feel the energy in the arena,” Boston said. “You can hear everyone cheering. That’s the games we love. … I think you’re seeing the growth. You’re seeing the energy around these two teams. You’re seeing the energy around women’s basketball.”

Clark, Reese, Boston and Cardoso have a certain aura about them among fans, both new and old. Older players have appeal, too, but those four — especially Clark and Reese, dating back to their terrific NCAA national championship game battle in 2023 — push fans to watch. They’ve become an event.

The games have been incredible, featuring physical moments. Players are showing emotion that is typical of a regular-season game with some juice. Celebrities and local noteworthy individuals have been at all three battles.

Indiana Fever guard Caitlin Clark walks on the Chicago Sky’s court for warmups
Indiana Fever guard Caitlin Clark hits the court for warmups before a game vs. the Chicago Sky on Sunday, June 26, in Wintrust Arena. (Photo credit: Tony East | The Next)

Stylistic differences have driven the results. A few days ago, Indiana couldn’t get stops in the post and kept fouling. Chicago punished those mistakes on its way to a win. In the first two meetings, Clark and Mitchell were simultaneously effective, and they upped the game’s pace. The Fever won those two outings.

“I think they’ve all been really fun, and I think they’ve all been on a weekend so the crowds have been tremendous,” Clark said. “The environment was fun.”

Maybe these duels will become something even bigger. The attention has been immense, and they have been more intense than typical regular-season games. Nobody wants to call it a rivalry yet, but that’s how it starts. Chennedy Carter committed a hard foul on Clark. NaLyssa Smith hit Reese with a too-small celebration. Those kinds of moments are reserved for games with added emotion.

The “why” isn’t important. The regional proximity, close games and young stars all play a part. People love watching the matchups, and they’ve been incredible. That’s what matters most. Players wear their emotions in tight games, and that has happened every time these two young teams face off.

Fever-Sky isn’t a rivalry — at least not right now. But it’s something, certainly, and it will only continue to grow.

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Written by Tony East

Indiana Fever reporter based in Indianapolis. Enjoy a good statistical-based argument.

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