LeBron James: Popularity of women’s basketball is due to ‘icons’ like Caitlin Clark

LeBron James figures there’s at least one obvious explanation for the surging popularity of the NCAA women’s basketball tournament.

Recognizable stars.

“I don’t think there’s much difference between the men’s and women’s game when it comes to college basketball. I think the popularity comes in is the icons that they have in the women’s game,” James said after his Los Angeles Lakers beat the Washington Wizards on Wednesday night. “You look at Angel Reese, you look at JuJu [Watkins], you look at Caitlin Clark, you look at Paige [Bueckers], you look at the young girl that’s in Iowa State, the freshman there [Audi Crooks], you look at [Cameron] Brink, I believe her last name is, at Stanford. And that’s just to name a few — the freshman that’s at Notre Dame, [Hannah Hidalgo].”

Although James mentioned well-known men’s players like Purdue’s Zach Edey and Tennessee’s Dalton Knecht, he noted that the transfer portal and early NBA Draft departures make it harder for players to become familiar to fans. It’s different on the women’s side.

“It’s just a different time between the men’s and women’s,” James said. “And men can come out after their freshman year. If I have a big-a** season after my freshman year of college basketball, I’m going to the league. If a girl has a great season — like JuJu. JuJu, she can’t come out. If she could, you think she might. Maybe. But that’s the difference.

“You’re able to build, like a real iconic legacy at a program,” James added. “That’s what we all love about it.”

When Clark and Iowa beat Reese and LSU in the regional final Monday night, it was the most-watched women’s college basketball game on record. It averaged 12.3 million viewers on ESPN, according to Nielsen, outdrawing all but one of the five games in last year’s NBA Finals, along with the final game of last year’s World Series.

Reporting by The Associated Press.

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