LeBron James Bows Down to Caitlin Clark During Record-Setting Championship Quarter

LeBron James told Caitlin Clark’s critics where to go as she gave a predictably outstanding performance in the first quarter of Sunday afternoon’s NCAA national championship game, sinking a blazing 18 points to give Iowa an early advantage against the undefeated South Carolina Gamecocks.

“If you don’t rock with Caitlin Clark game you’re just a FLAT OUT HATER!!!!!” he tweeted. “Stay far away from them people!! PLEASE.”

The once-in-a-generation talent’s red-hot start cooled considerably by the second quarter, in which she made just one of her six shots. The slowdown allowed the Gamecocks to surge to a lead they maintained until the final buzzer.

Claiming victory with a final score of 87-75, South Carolina won its third national title in seven tournaments and second in three seasons. At 38-0, it is the 10th women’s Division I program to complete a perfect season. The last perfect season was accomplished by the University of Connecticut in 2016.

“It’s awesome. It’s awesome. It’s unbelievable,” Coach Dawn Staley said in an emotional speech after the game, according to the Associated Press. “When young people lock in and have a belief, and have a trust, and their parents have that same trust, this is what can happen. They made history. They etched their names in the history books.”

Despite the disappointing finish for Iowa–which also fell just short of the championship last year, defeated by Louisiana State University–Clark closed out an historic collegiate career on a high, having scored 30 points. The two-time national player of the year is the presumptive No. 1 pick in next week’s WNBA draft.

Still, Clark’s 18-point start set a new record for the most points in a quarter by a single player in championship game history. It comes off the back of a number of other records she has smashed this season, including one for the most three-point shots made in a single season, a laurel previously held by Steph Curry.

In early March, she brought her total career points to 3,685 in a game against Ohio State, becoming the NCAA’s all-time leading scorer in college basketball and netting congratulations from both James and President Joe Biden, who said she’d made her school proud.

James has regularly saluted Clark throughout the season, including last week, when he hailed her as one of the women’s game “icons” alongside other stars like LSU’s Angel Reese and UConn’s Paige Bueckers.

Both LSU and UConn have fallen to Clark and Co. in recent days, however. The Hawkeyes’ Final Four 71-69 matchup against the Huskies on Friday set new records for the most-viewed women’s basketball game and the largest viewership for an ESPN basketball broadcast, according to the network.

Storming her way to victory after victory, Clark has attracted the attention of the so-called “haters” James called out on Sunday. A day prior, Staley had suggested that Clark needed a title under her belt to be considered the “Greatest of All Time.”

“You are going to look 10 years back and you are going to see all the records that she has broken, points and stuff like that, but anybody knows your goal when you play college basketball is to win a national championship,” Staley told Sirius XM, according to ESPN. “So you need one.”

But Clark said at a news conference that she didn’t think that was “a fair assessment,” and that she wanted her legacy to be about her impact on the game of women’s basketball, rather than points scored or games won.

“When you’re in the spotlight like this there’s gonna be a million different opinions on you,” she said later. “And for as many people that are going to love you, there’s going to be people that don’t like you. That’s the case with every professional athlete, men or women, playing at the highest stage.

“And I think what I’ve been able to do over the course of my career is just focus on the opinions of the people inside our locker room. That’s what I really care about. The people that I love to death. The people that have had my back every single second of my career.”

Staley acknowledged Clark from the victory podium on Sunday, seemingly having reversed her stance on the GOAT debate.

“I want to personally thank Caitlin Clark for lifting up our sport,” the coach said. “She carried a heavy load for our sport… She’s gonna lift [the WNBA] up… You are one of the GOATs of our game and we appreciate you.”