LeBron James says popularity of women's basketball is due to familiar stars

WASHINGTON (AP) — 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 Washington 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 makes it harder for players to became familiar to fans. It's different on the women's side.

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

Clark was honored to hear James support the women's tournament.

“He knows what he’s talking about. He pays attention. He supports the game,” she said on Thursday at media availability. “He doesn’t just talk about it. Like, he really shows up and supports. I think that’s the coolest thing; one of the greatest players of all time really helping support and grow women’s basketball. Like, that’s exactly what we need.”

Clark will be playing her final collegiate games in the same arena that James got his NBA start.

“He’s somebody I’ve always idolized,” Clark said. “It’s cool to be in Cleveland and play here, a place where his career started, and he was able to do so many amazing things.”

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.


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