LeBron James says NCAA women’s basketball as good as men’s and praises ‘icon’ Caitlin Clark, but raises big question about controversial NBA rule

The NCAA women’s basketball tournament was bigger than the NBA Finals and MLB World Series.

And even LeBron James has noticed the huge rise in popularity of a tournament that was once completely overshadowed by the men’s version.


LeBron James noticed how popular women’s college basketball has becomeCredit: Getty

The NBA’s all-time scoring leader called stars such as Caitlin Clark, Angel Reese and Paige Bueckers “icons” in a recent interview.

James also pointed out that a decline in the men’s tournament has been accompanied by a rise in the women’s March Madness.

As the Los Angeles Lakers fight for a spot in the NBA playoffs, The King watches the women’s dance from afar and sees the same thing as basketball fans around the world.

“I don’t think there’s a lot of difference between men’s and women’s soccer as far as college basketball goes,” James told ESPN. “I think their popularity comes from the icons they have in women’s soccer. You look at Angel Reese, you look at JuJu (Watkins), you look at Caitlin Clark, you look at Paige.”

In praising Clark and Paige — who will meet again Saturday when Iowa faces Connecticut in the Final Four — James highlighted a serious problem for the men’s college game.

The one-and-done rule, combined with the transfer portal and huge NIL money, watered down the men’s tournament and forced teams to reset their rosters every year.

Just as a young male player makes a name for himself in the NCAA tournament, he joins the NBA and joins a professional team.

Women’s soccer is the exact opposite, with Clark staying at Iowa for four years and building her reputation each year.

Caitlin Clark was a game changer for women's soccer and stayed at Iowa for four years.


Caitlin Clark was a game changer for women’s soccer and stayed at Iowa for four years.Credit: Getty
Fans treated Clark like a major superstar, much like a big name in the NBA.


Fans treated Clark like a major superstar, much like a big name in the NBA.Credit: Getty

Basketball fans were blown away by Clark last season.

Instead of moving to the WNBA, she stayed in Iowa and got even bigger in 2023-24.

LeBron James does his best Patrick Mahomes impersonation with a full-court touchdown pass to Anthony Davis during Los Angeles Lakers game

James questioned a WNBA rule that requires NCAA players to be 22 years old in the calendar year of the draft they intend to enter or to have exhausted their collegiate eligibility.

In doing so, he also pointed out a big problem linking the men’s NCAA system and the NBA.

Fans barely know the players in the men’s NCAA tournament each year.

Meanwhile, the NBA is recruiting young players who have only spent a year in college and then have to adapt to a tough professional league.

Zach Edey is men's college basketball rarity by staying at Purdue instead of leaving for the NBA


Zach Edey is men’s college basketball rarity by staying at Purdue instead of leaving for the NBACredit: Getty

The NBA has seen more success in international development recently, highlighted by Nikola Jokic, Luka Doncic and Victor Wembanyama.

“You’re able to build a real iconic legacy in a program,” James said. “And that’s what we all love. That’s what we all love.

“We love the girls’ game because of that moment where you can actually see these girls (build). That’s what makes the Women’s Final Four and Elite Eight so great.

“Yes, Iowa was a great team – Caitlin Clark is the reason we connected. You’re going to watch Purdue because of Zach Edey, because he’s a great player.”

The 7-foot-4, 300-pound Edey is a rarity in NCAA men’s basketball.

After suffering a major first-round upset last year, Edey stayed at Purdue for his senior season and now has the Boilermakers in the men’s Final Four.

“It’s just a different time between men and women,” James said. “Men can go out after their freshman year. If I have a big season after my freshman year of college basketball, I go to the league.”

Clark continued to stay in Iowa.

Now basketball fans around the world know his name and the Iowa star is producing historic TV ratings that beat the NBA Finals and MLB World Series in a fair fight.


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