'Be A Sheryl': Thoughts on Sheryl Swoopes vs. Caitlin Clark and Iowa

Some Iowa fans found Sheryl Swoopes' comments on Caitlin Clark to be disrespectful. You can disagree but respect the experience her opinions are built on.

Sheryl Swoopes #22
Sheryl Swoopes #22 / Kellie Landis/GettyImages

“Will Caitlin Clark be a good pro? Absolutely! Will Caitlin Clark come into the WNBA and do what she’s doing right now immediately? Absolutely not.” Those were words from WNBA legend Sheryl Swoopes when she was a special guest on Gil’s Arena. Over the past few weeks, her statement has had women’s basketball in a frenzy. 

Caitlin Clark is an unbelievable talent. She brings an energy and electricity that is great for women’s basketball. Clark brings dynamic scoring and playmaking that has allowed her to become the best player in women’s college basketball. She has the opportunity to become the all-time leading scorer in NCAA women’s basketball history as soon as this weekend as well as being the projected #1 pick in the 2024 WNBA Draft. 

I can’t speak for Sheryl Swoopes. However, I’m sure she understands the greatness of Caitlin Clark and what her future could possibly be. When she was asked for her opinion on the senior guard it didn’t come with bitterness or disrespect. The WNBA is a terrific league with talented players who constantly work hard to be the best versions of themselves. 

It’s not an easy adjustment for a college player to transition and dominate at the professional level. It doesn’t mean that they don’t have the potential to be great. However, the WNBA has a different pace and physicality compared to the college level. Sheryl Swoopes, a player who played 12 seasons in the WNBA, understands that and knows that being great at the next level doesn’t happen overnight. 

The aftermath of Swoopes’ comments has been brutal, to say the least. The reaction was the same as last season after Angel Reese made a hand gesture towards Caitlin Clark. Iowa fans have taken their frustrations to social media defending Clark. It’s one thing to disagree but it’s another thing to be disrespectful. On Thursday night, the Hawkeyes delivered a big win against Penn State on their home floor. The game featured a career-high 47 points from Hannah Stuelke accompanied by 27 points and 15 assists from Clark. However, the biggest story of the night was fans walking into the arena wearing a “Don’t be a Sheryl” shirt which represents their hatred towards Swoopes. 

“Don’t be a Sheryl” is very comical. If you ask a fan what the term means, there wouldn’t be a valid answer. Sheryl Swoopes is a pioneer of women’s basketball who brought popularity to women’s basketball during the 1990s. As a senior, she led Texas Tech to a National Title while scoring 47 points on the biggest stage. At a young age, Swoopes showed her greatness by continuing to be the best player on the floor. There was more where that came from moving forward in her journey. 

[Ed. Note — The initial publication of this article neglected to mention that Sheryl Swoopes made several additional, incorrect, statements about Caitlin Clark including that she had taken an extra year of eligibility to approach Plum's record. That is not true, although Clark does have an extra year of eligibility available to her next year if she should choose to take it, because of the COVID exception. She also dramatically exaggerated the number of shots Clark takes per game, minimizing her accomplishment. Those two significant inaccuracies are what Iowa fans were primarily responding to her. It was a mistake by our editorial staff not to include everything Swoopes said in this article.]

Sheryl Swoopes' career

Winning continued to follow Sheryl Swoopes as she won a gold medal with Team USA in 1996. It was her fierce competitiveness that helped lead the way for her team to dominate through the Olympics. Swoopes may have not been the leading scorer on the team but she definitely set the tone with her terrific defense and ability to score in multiple ways. 

At 25-years-old, Sheryl Swoopes’ basketball career was already legendary. She was known for being a part of some historic teams as well as displaying great individual moments. However, she was only getting started. Once Swoopes began her WNBA career, she was a part of a dynasty in the Houston Comets and one of the league's earliest stars.

Swoopes and the Comets exceeded expectations when they won four consecutive championships. Winning one title is hard in itself and repeating is another challenge. But the Comets were on the mountaintop for four straight seasons thanks to Swoopes and her greatness. Aside from winning titles, Swoopes won three WNBA MVP Awards, a scoring title, and three Defensive Player of the Year Awards. Her resumé embodies what it takes to be a legendary player. Because of this, Swoopes is known as one of the greatest players to ever play and entered the Hall of Fame in 2016. 

Sheryl Swoopes is a pioneer in women's basketball

That’s just a summary of Sheryl Swoopes’ basketball journey. There’s a reason why she's known as one of the important figures of women’s basketball. Today, Swoopes continues to help grow the game with her great analysis and mentorship. In the middle of her playoff run, Las Vegas Aces superstar A’ja Wilson reached out to Swoopes for guidance which helped her lead her team to a second consecutive championship. Wilson calling Swoopes for advice shows the respect she has for the legend and understanding of the greatness she’s provided. 

Regardless of those who agree with Sheryl Swoopes’ opinion on Caitlin Clark or not, understand that the woman who spoke is one who has played at every level in basketball and understands the process of becoming a great player. It even took Swoopes some time to blossom as a WNBA legend and figure out how to be great. If you ask me, Sheryl Swoopes’ take on Caitlin Clark was never intended to be hateful or disrespectful but a valid analysis on a great player.