Tuesdays with Torbee

by:Tory Brecht02/20/24


Being a bit of a literary snob as an ex-English major and son of a librarian, I often spend my mid-Sunday mornings perusing The New Yorker’s weekly roundup of must-read stories over a cup of coffee.

This past Sunday – tucked between articles entitled “The Legacy of Beatrix Potter” and “The Evolution of Alexy Navalny’s Nationalism” – I was mildly astonished to see the headline “The Swagger of Caitlin Clark.”

Rarely do my twin passions of elitist journalism and meatball college sports fanaticism collide. For some reason, seeing Ms. Clark’s exploits detailed in the staid, highbrow magazine drove home her utter ubiquity to me even more than seeing her Tweeted at by former President Obama or being a lead story on ABC Nightly News after her record-breaking game against Michigan.

Whether being lauded by the sleeveless and snarky Pat McAfee on his every-bro podcast or profiled in the Gray Lady New York Timesherself, the shooting phenom from Des Moines is inescapable, regardless of which strata of society you inhabit.

It is probably fair to ask finally whether Clark is the most incandescent national star to call Iowa City home since Nile Kinnick.

As an Iowa fan, the best thing about the rise of Cailtin is proof of concept that superstars don’t need to leave the Hawkeye state to ascend the highest planes of greatness. When high school star Harrison Barnes eschewed both Iowa and Iowa State for blueblood North Carolina, we understood. Likewise for Raef LaFrentz to Kansas before that. And (prior to his recent return) Kadyn Proctor to Alabama for football made sense too.

When the next potential superstar emerges from the hinterlands, however, they will know their star can shine brightly even if they remain between the Missouri and Mississippi rivers. I sincerely hope the athletic department is working on a strategy to leverage the “Caitlin Clark Effect” to boost recruiting across the board in all sports.

Clark, of course, has a huge decision looming at the end of this college basketball season. Thanks to the pandemic-shortened 2020 season she has the option of returning for a fifth year, one in which she would likely put all meaningful scoring and assist records forever out of range for mere mortals.

Much has been made of the relatively paltry WNBA salaries (which average just over $100,000 per year) compared to Clark’s NIL deals (said to be in the “high” six figures.) Looking from the outside, however, I’ve never sensed Clark’s main motivation is financial. Striving for team goals, personal greatness and growing the women’s game all seem to drive her as much or more than money.

Previously, I felt if Iowa fell short of an NCAA championship this season (which may be likely given the unprecedented strength of this year’s South Carolina team) Clark would seriously consider returning for one last championship drive.

However, the Indiana Fever holding the number one pick in the WNBA draft has me reconsidering. For one thing, Indiana is a basketball-crazy state in the heart of Big 10 country, where Clark is a bona fide superstar and massive box office draw. The Fever’s ownership group also counts the NBA Pacer’s among its portfolio – the team where Clark’s current boyfriend is employed as an analyst. The Fever also drafted Aliyah Boston last season, who is an admirer and with Clark would make a highly visible, highly talented dynamic duo.

It is hard to imagine Clark’s fame and draw growing larger in 2025 than it is in 2024. Arguably, with most meaningful college records already in her possession, interest in her is likely to wane somewhat in a fifth year.

I also understand the argument that the women’s college game is higher profile currently than the WNBA. Crowds are larger, fans are more passionate. That might actually be another reason for Clark to eschew another year of eligibility, though. As noted, her fame is likely at or nearing its peak right now. Perhaps she believes taking her talents to the WNBA can raise its profile and drive fan interest similar to the college Clark effect. If this NCAA tournament creates storylines anything like last year’s Clark-Haily Van Lith-Angel Reese drama, it could set up for some fun ongoing WNBA rivalries. Could Clark versus Reese do on a smaller scale what Larry Bird versus Magic Johnson did for the NBA? It would be fun to find out.

Regardless of her decision, fans have another couple months to bask in the generational greatness of the best women’s basketball player ever, playing here in Iowa. Embrace it. Enjoy it. It will be over before we know it.

Follow me on Twitter/X @torybrecht and the 12 Saturdays podcasts @12Saturdays.

You may also like