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Caitlin Clark needs to be protected as WNBA foes try bullying her

She was 1 of 10 shooting and 1 of 7 on 3-pointers, her legs were worn down from the back-to-back games, but something went terribly wrong in the fourth quarter when a bewildered-looking Caitlin Clark walked off the court to the Indiana Fever bench, gesturing to her ear.

A few minutes later, she disappeared down the tunnel leading to the visitors’ locker room and returned to the bench at the end of the game at the Burl-Kays Center, Liberty 104, Fever 68. She finished with a career-low three points and five assists.

“It just hit the screen a little bit,” Clark told The Post after the game, “but I’m OK. I just couldn’t hear very well so it was hard to see what was going on around me.”

Caitlin Clark was bullied during her time in the WNBA. Michel Farshi/New York Post

I guessed her confidence would remain unshaken. “No, absolutely not,” she said. “I’m just going to keep shooting the ball. That’s what I’m going to do. I know I’m good at shooting the ball, but I think I need to take some time off and get in shape. I think taking some time off would be really good for me.”

This comes on the heels of some unceremoniously unwelcome moments in the WNBA at the start of her professional career.

Clarke is being tested — physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually — some of it stemming from petty jealousies and some from veteran players who chose not to be fooled by the rookie.

Even though Clark is a rookie.

Her opponents should be happy that she’s brought attention to the WNBA, but that doesn’t mean they should expect her to kowtow and treat her kindly on the court. And she won’t.

She’s the face of the WNBA, and like it or not, not everyone likes that. And of course some are upset that the new face of the league happens to be a white face who joined the WNBA party late. Clark deserves credit for denying any suggestion that race played a role here…

Caitlin Clark reacts to the Fever’s loss to the Liberty on June 2, 2024. USA Today Sports

She’s the one who signed a $28 million deal with Nike before even trying out her first Logo 3. She’s the one who’s starred in commercials for State Farm. She’s a woman to watch.

She understands that’s the realm of professional sports. It’s part of the deal. LeBron James stood as the Chosen One during his welcome to the NBA moment. What’s good for the male is good for the goose.

But after Chicago Sky guard Chennedy Carter shouldered Clark to the floor off the ball in Indianapolis on Saturday, uttered the B-word, liked a tweet criticizing Clark, and Clark has been relentlessly attacked, the league must do itself a favor and get tougher on egregious incidents of any kind and crack down on self-proclaimed vigilantes. The WNBA upgraded Carter’s foul from a general foul to a Flagrant 1 on Sunday morning. Better late than never.

Hard fouls are one thing, flagrant fouls are another.

Being tested and being targeted are two different things.

Clark does not want, and is not entitled to, special treatment.

The last thing anyone in the WNBA wants is to hurt the goose that lays the golden eggs.

The golden egg-laying girl recalled her younger, weaker days in college, when opponents had their way with her, and she knows she doesn’t want to be seen as a crybaby to herself or the league.

“I grew up playing basketball with boys… You have to find a way to stand up for yourself,” she said before the game, smiling. “And I grew up with two brothers. Things were very physical, a lot of blood, a lot of tears, whatever. So I’m definitely prepared for it.”

Caitlin Clark drives to the rim during the Fever’s loss to the Liberty on June 2, 2024. USA Today Sports

She’s handled her new reality well, even with three technical fouls. She’s adapted to a stronger, more mature woman’s body. She’s not getting calls she might have gotten if she’d played at Iowa. Growing pains with new teammates. 11 games in 20 days. Losing. All of it.

Her love for the game was unwavering.

“I always tell myself that. Of course, there are moments when I get frustrated and down. I lose here, I don’t perform here, I just want to put things away,” she said. “But there are so many people who want to be in my position and are waiting for this opportunity. I get to do this as a job. How lucky am I. Sometimes it’s hard to tell myself that and see everything objectively, but that’s what I try to do. At the same time, I think it takes the pressure off a little bit and allows me to really enjoy it and continue playing the game that I love.”

She didn’t blink. In the eye of the storm. Things will get better for Clark. She will make the WNBA better in so many ways. The WNBA should do its part for her.