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Endless Range, Boundless Swagger: Why Caitlin Clark Is Different

U.S.Endless Range, Boundless Swagger: Why Caitlin Clark Is Different

When Caitlin Clark moves — weaving through defensive traffic; waving unsubtly for a teammate’s pass; wriggling free enough to catch, fire, catch fire — people tend to follow.

This instinct informs every opponent’s scouting report, to the extent that anybody can prepare one with confidence: a triple-underlined directive to shadow Clark, the biggest star in college basketball, lest she splash another 3-pointer from the Hawkeye beak in the University of Iowa logo near midcourt.

At perpetual sellouts, at home and on the road, crowds approaching 15,000 crane their phones in her general direction from pregame stretches through postgame autograph sessions. Young girls and old men tug at “22” Clark jerseys that flap above their knees. Small delegations from her Manhattan marketing firm file in to appraise their new asset. Stewards of the sport, wary from experience, permit themselves to wonder if something might be different this time.

“I’ve stayed away from basketball,” said C. Vivian Stringer, the Hall of Fame former coach at Rutgers and Iowa who retired in 2022. “But how can you stay away from Caitlin Clark?”

The question carries far-reaching implications — social, financial, semi-existential — for Clark’s sport, her state and the long and sometimes halting march of women’s athletics in America.

Last spring, Clark’s rolling spectacle seemed to signal a breakthrough. The national championship game, which Iowa lost to L.S.U., attracted some 10 million viewers, a runaway record for a women’s final. This month, Clark is poised to become the leading Division I college scorer in women’s history, a chase chronicled basket by basket on ESPN with a nightly fervor once reserved for touchdown passes and steroidal home-run marks. She is also threatening the overall Division I scoring record set more than 50 years ago by Pete Maravich, the master showman to whom she is often compared.

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