College basketball shock: Caitlin Clark’s one-sentence response to Iowa withdrawing her phone number is a poignant lesson in emotional intelligence. |T

Clark recognizes that her biggest accomplishment is the impact she has had on those around her.


Caitlin Clark.

Caitlin Clark. Photo: Getty Images

At a ceremony honoring the Iowa Hawkeyes women’s basketball team, the school’s athletic director, Beth Goetz, announced that it would retire Caitlin Clark’s number 22. “I think they like you,” Goetz said as the crowd gave Clark a standing ovation at the announcement.

Retiring a number is a pretty big honor. In most cases, it’s done after a player leaves a team, or leaves a sport altogether. Iowa, for its part, has retired the numbers of only two other players from its women’s team.

As for Clark’s number 22, the program isn’t even waiting for her to go anywhere. Sure, her career at Iowa is technically over, but she’s still a student for a few more weeks, at least. And, as the expected number one overall draft pick, she’s likely going to have a long career in the WNBA.

All of that tells you just how big of a deal Iowa considers Clark’s contribution to both the program and the sport as a whole. “We always knew your jersey would be hanging in the rafters,” Goetz said. “It is a privilege for me to now make that official. You will be the last to wear number 22.”

In response, Clark made it clear that she understands the weight of this honor. Of course, she has been carrying the weight of the program and the sport for the past two years.

After winning the national championship, South Carolina coach Dawn Staley–who is no stranger to the spotlight herself–made sure to point out just how much of a weight Clark has carried. “I want to personally thank Caitlin Clark for lifting up our sport,” Staley said. “She carried a heavy load for our sport, and it’s not going to stop here on the collegiate tour. When she’s 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 are one of the GOATs of our game, and we appreciate you.”

Olympic gold medalist and former Player of the Year Rebecca Lobo said that Clark’s greatest legacy is the way she grew the game of women’s basketball. Lobo called Clark a “singular force who has grown the women’s game in ways no college player ever has before.”

Certainly, Clark has grown used to the spotlight. She drew massive crowds to her sport–including a record audience for the championship game against South Carolina. In fact, this year was the first that the women’s NCAA championship game drew a larger audience than the men’s. A big part of that was Clark, who became the NCAA’s all-time leading scorer, man or woman.

This, I would imagine, feels different. This is the brightest spotlight the school can shine on her, and that’s a lot for a 22-year-old to process. But Clark’s response is actually a remarkably poignant example of emotional intelligence.

“I would say you’ve all inspired me as much as I inspired you,” Clark said to the crowd. That one sentence is a powerful lesson for all of us. It would be easy for Clark to stand in the spotlight and bask in her accomplishments, but that isn’t what she did. At that moment, she turned the spotlight back on those who gave her their attention. She understands that her greatest success is inspiring them, and she uses that as her own inspiration.

“There’s been a lot of really good 22s to come before me and play for this program, whether it’s Kathleen Doyle or Sam Logic,” Clark said. “That number holds a lot of weight, far beyond my name, and I guess I’m just really grateful and it will be a special day when it happens, for sure.”

There’s no question that the number 22 stands for more than just Clark’s name. It stands for the impact she has had on the game. She understands that she is an inspiration to thousands, if not millions, of young athletes who see her accomplishments as a door opening for their own dreams.

They see her as a hero, not just because she can make impossibly long three-pointers, but because of how she made people pay attention to the sport in a new way. Hanging her number in the rafters is a symbol of everything she has accomplished, but most of all, for what she did for those around her. Her response shows that she knows it was all about more than just scoring baskets, but growing her sport.

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