‘That Iowa Hawkeye sure plays a mean b-ball’

Former Marshalltown reporter goes viral with musical parody tribute to Caitlin Clark

Former Times-Republican reporter Rob Merritt, left, and collaborator Alex Taylor are pictured in the video for “B-Ball Wizard (The Caitlin Clark Song),” which has garnered more than 136,000 views on YouTube. SCREENSHOT VIA YOUTUBE

IOWA CITY – While the Iowa women’s basketball team’s magical run in the NCAA Tournament ended with a loss to undefeated South Carolina in the championship game last Sunday afternoon, the excitement that built around the Hawkeye squad — and particularly, its star player, record-breaking guard Caitlin Clark — won’t soon be forgotten.

Clark’s hardwood success has inspired all sorts of tributes and recognitions from the sports world and beyond, and one of the most notable examples came from former Times-Republican reporter and frequent Marshalltown Community Theatre performer Rob Merritt of Cedar Rapids, who created a viral musical parody video titled “B-Ball Wizard (The Caitlin Clark Song)” based on The Who’s classic rock staple “Pinball Wizard.”

Merritt, who worked at the Time-Republican (the Telegraph’s mother paper) from 1998 to 2004 after graduating from the University of Iowa, currently serves as the communications director at NewBoCo in Cedar Rapids, and he isn’t a stranger to internet fame. Four years ago, he created a musical parody of Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire” titled “This Year is a Dumpster Fire” with lyrics about the COVID-19 pandemic, and it garnered over 700,000 views on YouTube.

Since then, he’s heard plenty of suggestions on which parody he should make next, but none of them stuck until a coworker said “Hey, you should take ‘Pinball Wizard’ and make it about Caitlin Clark.”

“I was like, ‘Actually, that’s not a bad idea.’ I think he was just kidding, but I seriously thought it might work. By the end of the day, I could see the lyrics in my head and I went back to him and said ‘Alright dude, I’m gonna do it, but you have to be in the video with me,'” Merritt said. “He threw out the idea, and I just was off from there.”

The resulting video, which highlights Clark’s achievements on the court and also shouts out other members of the back-to-back national runners-up team, has been viewed over 136,000 times as of press time, and Merritt said the feedback he’s received has been overwhelmingly positive — for anyone asking, no, he isn’t collecting royalty checks as the music he’s using is already copyrighted.

“It’s fun to make a parody, but at the same time, Caitlin Clark has done amazing things for both the state of Iowa and the game of women’s basketball, and it was kind of fun to use those lyrics to pay tribute to that,” Merritt said.

Going forward, Merritt doesn’t have any plans for his next project or video — he never wants anything he does to feel forced or contrived — but as always, if inspiration strikes, he’ll run with it. When a question at a local trivia night about “B-Ball Wizard” described him as an “influencer,” he laughed but bristled at the idea that he had influence over anyone.

“I’m like anybody who has access to YouTube. I make videos that I think are funny or fun, and if people enjoy them, great. If not, I’m not gonna lose any sleep,” he said.

While he hasn’t lived here for two decades, Merritt has kept a strong connection with the Marshalltown community through his side career as an actor, including several roles in films shot in the area by Director Jude Rawlins.

“Marshalltown remains a town that I love very much, and I’m in Cedar Rapids so I’m only an hour away. It’s very easy to pop over and visit,” Merritt said.

Merritt can be found on YouTube through his account @madreindeer, and “B-Ball Wizard” is available for viewing at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2JHEGiLYjd0