There Was Never Any Beef Between Angel Reese and Caitlin Clark

College Basketball: NCAA Finals: LSU Angel Reese (10) taunting Iowa Caitlin Clark (22) and pointing to her ring finger after winning championship game vs Iowa at American Airlines ArenaDallas, TX 4/2/2023CREDIT: Greg Nelson (Photo by Greg Nelson /Sports I
Greg Nelson /Sports Illustrated via Getty Images
Greg Nelson /Sports Illustrated via Getty Images

Magic Johnson vs. Larry Bird. LeBron James vs. Steph Curry. Michael Jordan vs. Kobe Bryant. When it comes to the NBA, fierce competition and a slight undertone of cockiness are part of what fuel the game. But for women basketball players, a bold attitude and aggressive gameplay equate to beef, apparently — and somehow, it's unbecoming. Just take Angel Reese and Caitlin Clark, for example.

The respective LSU forward and Iowa point guard have been pitted against each other since the players went head to head at last year's March Madness tournament. Clark has been criticized for being arrogant and too cocky, while Reese has been downright vilified for her use of trash talk — having been called a "classless piece of shit," among other things, following her now-infamous "you can't see me" wave toward Clark during the 2023 March Madness championship.

This year, even as viewers approached the much-anticipated Elite 8 game between LSU and Iowa, there was plenty of talk around a rivalry rehashed. And as Iowa cinched the Final Four slot on April 1, viewers took to social media to add fuel to the fire.

"Caitlin Clark could have taunted Angel Reese and LSU in revenge for what they did to her last year. She didn't. Clark simply celebrated the moment with her team. Complete class act. Iowa onto the Final Four," tweeted David Hookstead, a media personality for Outkick. "We can officially quit putting Angel Reese on Caitlin Clark's level. Stop it. One is an all-time great player. The other got famous for taunting. The rivalry is dead," sports podcaster Jason Whitlock tweeted.

Statements like these highlight both the emotional policing of Black women athletes and the misogyny at play when it comes to sport and who is allowed to be passionate. I hate to break it to these two men, but Reese and Clark are both phenomenally talented, yet extremely confident (read: occasionally cocky) players. And why shouldn't they be? You'd be hard-pressed to find an NBA player who isn't.

To directly address some of the remarks circulating on social media: yes, Clark could have taunted Reese — and she's done so in the past to other players. Her choosing not to be as theatrical last night had nothing to do with her having more class. She is in no way a victim, either. Clark is a consistently record-breaking athlete who's more than capable of handling a little trash talk.

And while it should go without saying, Reese is a star in her own right, having led the LSU women's basketball team to a 102-point NCAA Championship game record last year and set the single-season record in double-doubles and the SEC single-season record in rebounds.

These two women are real athletes, with the stats to back it up. Reducing their relationship to trash talk and a petty personal rivalry that doesn't exist undersells their talent, especially that of Reese, and the years of hard work it took to get here. What they do on the court is play hard.

The athletes have said it best themselves. "Me and Caitlin Clark don't hate each other. I want everybody to understand that it's just a super competitive game, and like, I just wish people realized that," Reese said in an interview before the Elite 8 matchup. "Once I get between those lines, there's no friends. . . . I'm gonna talk trash to you. I'm gonna do whatever it takes to get in your head the whole entire game, but after the game, we can kick it."

Clark made a similar statement, praising Reese for her competitive spirt. "Me and Angel have always been great competitors. There's definitely that competitive fire. Both of us want to win more than anything, and that's how it should be when you're a competitor and you get into a situation like this, whether it was the national championship, whether it's the Elite 8," Clark told reporters ahead of the Elite 8 game. "We both grew up loving this game, and we're going to do anything we can to help our teams win," she went on to say.

Translation: there was never any beef, just a fierce competition between athletes — and last time I checked the viewership numbers and ticket sales, it's been quite entertaining, too.

Alexis Jones is the senior health editor at POPSUGAR. Her areas of expertise include women's health, mental health, racial and ethnic disparities in healthcare, diversity in wellness, and chronic conditions. Prior to joining POPSUGAR, she was the senior editor at Health magazine. Her other bylines can be found at Women's Health, Prevention, Marie Claire, and more.