Breaking News: Lisa Bluder head coach of Iowa Hawkeyes women’s basketball recently declared that he would shortly be retiring due to…

They had arrived early all season, so what’s one more night of sitting to wait for the Carver-Hawkeye Arena doors to open?

Fans began lining up outside of the arena a couple of hours before Wednesday’s celebration to honor the Iowa women’s basketball team, because that’s what they’ve done from November on to watch the best show to ever be performed at the arena.

It wasn’t a capacity crowd — an estimated 8,000 fans showed up, racing in to claim seats as soon as the doors opened.

But they came to say goodbye, a farewell to the best player in women’s basketball history and a farewell to a team that had captured the attention, but also the nation, over the last two seasons.

Two Final Four trips, two trips to the national championship game, two second-place finishes, and a consensus national player of the year in Caitlin Clark, who owns all of major college basketball’s career scoring records and a legacy that likely will never be matched in the program.

“The story of this team,” university president Barbara Wilson said during the ceremony, “will live on for decades.”

Wilson said Iowa was now “the epicenter for women’s sports,” thanks to the constant earthquakes from the success of Clark, whose logo 3-pointers, daring passes, and high-spirited emotions grabbed a fan base and made her and the Hawkeyes a consistent national TV presence.

It was no surprise when athletics director Beth Goetz announced that Clark’s jersey number 22 was going to be retired, yet it still led to a standing ovation that made Clark smile.

“I think they like you,” Goetz said with a smile as the roar died down.

Clark made sure to let everyone know that she likes them, too, and always will.

“I would say you’ve all inspired me as much as I inspired you,” Clark said. “And you allowed me to live out my dream every single day, and for that, I’m very thankful. It’s been very special, and this place will always be home to me.”

Clark, expected to be the No. 1 overall pick by the Indiana Fever in next Monday’s WNBA Draft, finished her career with 3,951 points and 1,144 assists. Her career started in mostly empty arenas during the COVID-19 pandemic season of 2020-21 and ended in front of sellouts, home and away, and in front of national TV audiences that set ratings records.

Clark has embraced the history made, yet has also celebrated the Hawkeyes of the past. Her jersey number was worn before by players like Samantha Logic and Kathleen Doyle, whose own numbers grace Iowa’s record books as well.

“It’s super incredible, something I’m very thankful for,” Clark said. “There’s been a lot of good 22s who have come before me and played for this program, whether it was Kathleen Doyle or Sam Logic. That number holds a lot of weight, far beyond me. I’m really grateful, and it will be a special day when it happens.”

Iowa coach Lisa Bluder called the runs of the last two seasons “special,” but she noted how this season was different just because, even with Clark and fellow starters Kate Martin and Gabbie Marshall back, there were still questions that needed to be answered.

The Hawkeyes went 34-5, spent the entire season in the top five in the national polls, won the Big Ten Tournament, and then roared back to the national championship game, where they ran into an undefeated South Carolina team looking for its own history.

“This year’s was also special, because nobody thought we could do it,” Bluder said. “Nobody thought we could repeat what we did last year except these women up here.”

There was a financial impact that the Hawkeyes have had in a season in which more than 238,000 tickets were sold for home games — Iowa City mayor Bruce Teague estimated the Hawkeyes produced more than $82 million in revenue for the city and the area this season.

The question, of course, is if the program can sustain such attention with Clark gone.

“Please come back next year,” Bluder said. “Please come back to Carver-Hawkeye Arena.”

A fan base that has always been loyal gained a lot of new followers, and if Wednesday was any indication, there is no suggestion they’re thinking about moving on next season.

When the ceremony was over, fans ringed the arena floor for a final chance at autographs. Clark circled the floor, making sure to hit every side, and her teammates joined her.

Clark, when she spoke during the ceremony, mentioned how when she was a child she idolized athletes.

“I wanted to be like them,” she said. “Those were the people who allowed me to dream and be in moments like this.”

Clark wasn’t willing to let this moment go, and neither were the fans. Eventually Clark disappeared down the tunnel toward her future — she is expected to be the No. 1 overall pick in next Monday’s WNBA draft.

Fans stayed around until they were told to leave the arena. The final song of the night played on the sound system was Semisonic’s “Closing Time.”

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