Something remarkable and entirely unexpected occurred in my home recently, a request that caused a double-take to make sure an impostor wasn't sitting next to me on the couch.
My wife asked if we could watch a women's basketball game.
This has never happened in our 23 years of wedded bliss. Sure, there have been times when I flipped to women's basketball on TV and maybe she paid casual attention, but never has she requested it. Not only requested it, but then suggested we record the championship game two days later in case we were not home.
We moved further into the twilight zone when my mother-in-law called to talk about women's basketball, specifically Angel Reese's taunting of Caitlin Clark, and suddenly two people who know next to nothing about women's basketball were discussing women's basketball.
And me? For the first time in my life, I was more excited to watch the women's championship game than the men's.
I smiled at all of it. Smiled, because this is how a sport grows.
Something compelling happens that grabs people's attention, pulls them in, leaves them talking about it and then maybe creates fans of those new to the neighborhood.
Not everyone who found themselves captivated by the supernova moment that unfolded in women's college basketball over the last 10 days will become full-fledged followers, but some undoubtedly will.
The women's Final Four hit the jackpot as a showcase. It was one of those rare occasions in sports where the event exceeds the hype, and then, as a bonus, provided controversy that brought even more attention. People new to the sport were treated to wonderful theater that showed why women's basketball continues to ascend in popularity.
This felt like a watershed moment for the women's game. TV ratings for the LSU-Iowa national championship game obliterated records – 9.9 million viewers on ABC and ESPN2, which represented a 103% increase from the 2022 title game.
The brouhaha over Reese's gesture to Clark created a sideshow (an overblown one) that kept women's basketball in the national conversation.
Stories about the Reese-Clark moment were the most read sports story on the Star Tribune website on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday. The game story from the Iowa-South Carolina semifinal was the third-most popular sports story on the website last Saturday.
None of this surprises Cheryl Reeve. As the Lynx's championship coach and top executive and U.S. Olympic team coach, Reeve has one of the most respected voices in women's basketball.
For years, Reeve has used her platform to challenge media companies to invest and give legitimate treatment to her sport. We're witnessing the result when that happens.
Viewers are now able to watch tournament games in their entirety, not just whip-around coverage. "SportsCenter" on ESPN led shows with highlights. There was more postgame analysis.
"You could watch Caitlin Clark," Reeve said. "It wasn't just something that you heard about."
The conditions exist to continue this momentum. Sports fans love personalities as much, if not more, than specific teams. That's what fuels the NBA's popularity — individual star power.
The women's college game has transcendent players and megawatt personalities right now.
The Caitlin Clark experience is unlike anything we've ever seen. She is the reason my wife asked to watch. She had heard about Clark but had never watched her play, so she wanted to see what the fuss was all about. She was blown away by Clark's talent.
Paige Bueckers has spent her entire career under a bright spotlight and will continue to do so at Connecticut once she's back from injury. And LSU's Reese earned a legion of new fans, and critics, by throwing shade back at Clark after winning the national championship.
Some liked her bravado, others hated it, but 10 million people watched the game and kept talking about it.
Corporations are paying attention, too. Reese, Clark and Bueckers already have expansive name, image and likeness (NIL) portfolios with prominent corporations. According to On3.com, Reese has signed 20-plus NIL deals, including Bose, McDonald's and Xfinity.
All three of those stars will be back in college basketball next season. Imagine a Final Four that includes Reese, Clark, Bueckers and Dawn Staley's South Carolina.