The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Column | Caitlin Clark is one of the GOATs even without a national title

Clark’s records and the attention she brought to the game speak for itself.
Ayrton Breckenridge
Iowa guard Caitlin Clark waits to be introduced during an NCAA Tournament Second Round game between No. 1 Iowa and No. 8 West Virginia at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City on Monday, March 25, 2024. The Hawkeyes defeated the Mountaineers, 64-54.

Barry Sanders, Ken Griffey Jr, Charles Barkley, Marcel Dionne, and Angel McCoughtry. These are all Hall of Fame caliber athletes for their respected sports with legacies that will last a lifetime.

However, these legends all have one thing in common: They never won a championship. (Barkely, Dionne, and McCoughtry all won gold medals representing their countries in the Olympics but never hoisted championship trophies when it came to their professional leagues)

Still, it would be disrespectful to these athletes not to consider them one of the greatest of all time (GOAT) in their sports just because they couldn’t get over the hump and win a championship during their illustrious careers.

This being said, Iowa guard Caitlin Clark, whose four historic seasons with the Hawkeyes ended in an 87-75 loss to South Carolina in the national championship, should also be considered as one of the GOATs in women’s collegiate basketball.

As Iowa made its way through the gauntlet of teams such as LSU and UConn en route to a second consecutive national championship appearance, many legends of the women’s game — past and present — voiced their opinions publicly on how Clark shouldn’t be considered one of the greats unless she wins a national title.

Reigning WNBA MVP Breanna Stewart, a four-time national champion at UConn from 2012-16, said prior to Iowa’s matchup against South Carolina that Clark wouldn’t be considered one of the greats unless she beat the Gamecocks.

“You’re going to look 10 years back, and you’re going to see all the records she’s broken. But anybody knows that your goal when you play is to win a national championship,” Stewart said in an interview with SiriusXM’s Nicole Auerbach.

Even South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley agreed with Stewart’s sentiments, saying Clark’s “really damn good regardless,” but winning the championship would seal the deal.

“You’ve got to win a championship,” Staley said in a press conference leading up to the national championship. “That’s me personally. Like I had a great career, but it’s always, did you win a championship?”

Stewart and Staley have every right to share their thoughts on Clark’s game, and they are not entirely wrong. Unlike golf or boxing, basketball is a team sport, and there are examples of one player collecting numerous accolades that didn’t translate into their team winning the big one.

But that’s just it. Basketball IS a team sport, and unlike Stewart and fellow UConn alumni Diana Taurasi, Clark didn’t have the same supporting cast as these two GOATS during their national title runs.

As one X user pointed out, Stewart played with not one, not two, but 12 teammates at UConn who went on to play in the WNBA, while Taurasi had 10. Clark has had one teammate, center Monika Czinano, get drafted in the WNBA, though she didn’t make the Los Angeles Sparks’ final roster.

This is by no means a shade at Clark’s current or former teammates, as her chemistry with Czinano and fellow guards Kate Martin and Gabbie Marshall on the court made Iowa women’s basketball must-see TV while also leading the program to the most success ever in its 50-year history. This just means Clark was asked to do more than the other GOATs regarding her playmaking abilities and being the one that had to produce much of Iowa’s scoring.

But what troubles me the most is how many greats of the women’s game have seemingly undermined Clark’s records and accomplishments in the GOAT conversation.

Clark became the all-time leading scorer for both men’s and women’s this season with 3,951 points, became the only player in Division I history to lead the nation in both points and assists per game, doing it twice, and more recently set the NCAA Tournament three-point and scoring career record, just to name a few.

What’s more impressive, however, was that she was able to do this with the pressure of the world watching her every move. Iowa’s games set or broke attendance records in all but two of its regular season games and broke broadcasting viewership records nearly every time they were on TV.

But this didn’t stop several greats trying to diminish Clark and Iowa’s achievements.

Hall of Famer Sheryl Swoopes incorrectly said Clark’s passing former Washington guard Kelsey Plum as the all-time scoring leader shouldn’t count since she had five years to achieve it while Plum had four. This was, of course, not the case, as Clark broke the record with four regular season games remaining in her fourth season with Iowa.

Fellow Hall of Famer Lynette Woodard said Clark did not break her all-time scoring record because Clark didn’t have to play with a men’s basketball and without a three-point line like Woodard did. More recently, Taurasi suggested Clark won’t have the same success when it comes time to play in the pros.

“There are levels to this thing, and that’s just life,” Taurasi told ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt. “You look superhuman playing 18-year-olds, but you’re going to [go against] some grown women who’ve been playing professional basketball for a long time.”

Why is this the case? Why are former greats so quick to tear down Clark instead of appreciating that she has brought so much attention to the game? I don’t want to suggest jealousy, but Taurasi’s comments coming after Iowa took down her for her alma mater, UConn, came off a bit like she was hating.

It hasn’t all been negative, though. In South Carolina’s post-game celebration, Staley promptly gave Clark her flowers.

“I want to personally thank Caitlin Clark for lifting up our sport,” Staley said after winning her third national championship as a coach. “It’s not going to stop here on the collegiate tour, [and] when she is the number one pick in the WNBA Draft, she’s going to lift that league up as well. So, Caitlin Clark, if you’re out there, you’re one of the GOATs of our sport.”

So yes, Clark never brought a national championship back to her home state of Iowa, but this should not define her legacy. The 22-year-old has her whole career ahead of her to continue doing great things for the sport of women’s basketball.

“I don’t want my legacy to be, ‘Oh, Caitlin won X amount of games, or Caitlin scored X amount of points,” Clark said following the national championship. “I hope [it’s] what I was able to do for the game of women’s basketball. I hope it is the young boys and young girls that are inspired to play this sport or dream to do whatever they want to do in their lives.”

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About the Contributors
Cooper Worth
Cooper Worth, Pregame reporter
Cooper Worth is a Pregame Reporter for The Daily Iowan. He is a senior at the University of Iowa majoring in journalism and mass communication. He is also earning a minor in communication studies and an entrepreneurial management certificate. This is his third year at the DI, previously serving as a News Editor and as a News Reporter covering local government in Johnson County for the DI. Cooper interned for the Telegraph Herald in Dubuque, Iowa during the summer of 2023 as a general news reporter.
Ayrton Breckenridge
Ayrton Breckenridge, Managing Visuals Editor
Ayrton Breckenridge is the Managing Visuals Editor at The Daily Iowan. He is a senior at the University of Iowa majoring in journalism and cinema. This is his fourth year working for the DI.