INDIANAPOLIS — Caitlin Clark walked into her new home arena Thursday night with No. 22 shirts and jerseys peppered from floor to ceiling.

Her team, the Indiana Fever, was about to face the Atlanta Dream in a WNBA exhibition game.

A late-arriving but still louder-than-usual crowd roared during her first official introduction to Fever fans. And when Clark made the layup for her first basket with seven minutes left in the first quarter, the applause grew. It was even louder when she completed a three-point play a few minutes later.

Clark successfully navigated the city’s most anticipated rookie debut since Peyton Manning played for the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts in 1998 even though it wasn’t quite the start most anticipated.

She missed her first two shots and her first four from 3-point range against the Dream. She had two assists and one turnover in the first five minutes, and her new teammates struggled to take advantage of her crisp passes into the paint, putting the Fever in an early 18-8 deficit.

Clark finished the game with 12 points on 4 of 12 shooting in 31 minutes on the court. She was 2-for-9 on 3-pointers but also had eight rebounds and six assists. The Fever held on to win 83-80.

Five players scored in double figures for the Dream. Rhyne Howard led the way with 13 points.

Clark was a big hit and a welcome change for the Fever.

“People definitely know who I am,” she said before the game. “Sometimes it’s hard to go out and do what I want to do, but at the same time, I wouldn’t want it any other way. That’s the best way to grow women’s basketball. That’s the best way to get these fans excited about what we’re going to do here, so I think people they are just as excited as we are to play here. So I think more than anything, enjoy it, soak it in.”

Clark certainly tried to live up to her own advice.

Why not?

Indiana Fever guard Caitlin Clark wipes her face after hitting a shot and being fouled by the Atlanta Dream during the first half of a preseason WNBA basketball game in Indianapolis, Thursday, May 9, 2024. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Credit: AP

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Credit: AP

Indiana opened the third deck of seating at Gainbridge Fieldhouse instead of covering it with curtains, and the attendance for Indiana’s only preseason home game was up — way up — from last year’s regular-season average of slightly more than 4,000 per game. Nearly two-thirds of the 17,000-plus seats were filled midway through the first quarter against the Dream and judging from the attire, most came to see Clark — even for a rescheduled contest.

Indiana was initially scheduled to play Friday but moved the game when the NBA announced the Indiana Pacers and New York Knicks would play Game 3 of their best-of-seven series in that time slot.

Yet the WNBA's No. 1 overall draft pick has generated more interest and attention in women's basketball than most of her predecessors, giving her a platform few others possess and she's taking full advantage of it.

Her presence, coupled with others in perhaps the most heralded rookie class in WNBA history, prompted league commissioner Cathy Engelbert to announce earlier this week she’s poised to spend $50 million on charter flights over the next two seasons.

Meanwhile, the curiosity surrounding Clark has some opponents moving games to larger venues to accommodate ticket sales and a team that hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2016 will now have 36 of its 40 regular-season games appear on national television.

For Clark, playing in front of full arena has become the norm. For her teammates and coaches, this could be the start of something bigger than they could have imagined.

“This is what women's basketball has always been about," said Aliyah Boston, the WNBA's 2023 rookie of the year. "I think it's really great that fans are following their favorite players from college into the league because that's the way we continue to grow."

Especially when it comes to a generational-type player such as Clark, who has fully embraced her new home city.

“Honestly, I'm expecting a lot of people to be here, I'm expecting it to be loud, I'm expecting the fans to be really in it,” Clark said. “Like I know these fans are going to show up, and they know what's going to be going on on the court. I think sometimes you can show up to arenas and they're just sitting there. But like when I was in college, they were invested, they know what's going on.

"I think it's the same thing in the state of Indiana, people that support the Fever, that support the Pacers, they're invested. So they're going to cheer, they're going to get after the refs.”