One-on-one with Tamika Catchings, a first ballot Hall of Fame player and person
Catchings enters the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame this weekend.
They don’t make them like Tamika Catchings. She’s truly one of a kind.
One of the things you miss about not being able to visit with people like we traditionally can is seeing Catch’s big smile and her unmistakeable hugs. They’re the best.
Tamika is one of the finest women’s basketball players ever and she will be honored this weekend, entering the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame with a legendary class that includes the late Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan. The pandemic delayed enshrinement weekend from the fall to May 15 for this much-anticipated group.
“I am super excited and really just elated,” Catchings said this week during an extended interview. “My whole family will be out there and through COVID and just the time that we'd been through, our family had been separated. So it's a great event, not only just to be able to walk across the stage and become a Hall of Famer, but even more importantly, just having my family, their support system and just being able to share the moment with them.”
By now you're probably well-aware of her accomplishments:
Championship at every level — high school, college, WNBA and Olympics
2012 WNBA Champion and Finals MVP
5-time Defensive Player of the Year
After this weekend, “Hall of Fame” will be added to her banner hanging in the rafters at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. She’s one of the most accomplished players ever and did it all in Indianapolis, where she was drafted.
Fever president/GM Kelly Krauskopf, now an assistant GM for the Pacers, wanted her so badly that she drafted Catchings in 2001 knowing she would miss the first season due to injury. And that was the best decision ever made by the franchise.
I know because I saw it first hand as a ball boy for the team from 2003-2012. And we had a connection right away. I became her ball boy, exclusively rebounding for her before each game. It was the same routine. Even in the offseason, there were 7:00 a.m. workouts; by the time I arrived, she wasn’t just ready, she was dripping with sweat. She also fought through so many tough injuries over her career — ACL, Achilles, broken noise and other fractures.
With Catchings leading the way, reaching the postseason was a given. They did so every season from 2005 until her final season, 2016. And they haven’t been back since. It’s hard to replace a legend like her — and now Catchings, the Fever VP of Basketball Operations, is trying to do just that.
She’s spent her entire adult life in Indianapolis. She’s bought houses, invested in real estate, owns two Tea Shops, wrote multiple books and has helped so many kids through her foundation.
She’s been working on her enshrinement speech for more than a month, instructed to keep it between five-to-seven minutes. It’s their night, though. She can go as long as she’d like.
“Trying to squeeze a lifetime of people that have been by your side, that have supported you, my fans and have been part of the journey, it’s just it's impossible to do in five-to-seven minutes,” she said. “I don't think that I've really been able to fully grasp and think about what going on and what's about to happen. But I know when I land in Connecticut (on Thursday) and just get a breather and start seeing my family come in, it's just amazing.”
(It all begins at 5:30 p.m. ET on ESPN).
You can read a portion of my interview with her below, but I’d recommend listening to it all in the media player below — or on the Fieldhouse Files podcast. It’s worth the time.
One person, unfortunately, who cannot enjoy this with you is one of your idols, Pat Summitt. I’m guessing she’s in that speech somewhere, but what do you think about when you consider her influence in your game? You were going to take off anyway, but she certainly had a big influence.
Oh man. She had a big influence on my game. And just more importantly, just me as a person. When I look at Pat and I think about and all of the things that we can say from all of us that played for coach, you can talk about the things that happened on the basketball court. But it’s the things off the court that mattered the most and just her wanting us to develop into great people and just being an asset to society. And I feel like — I hope — that all of us we’re a part of her legacy and I hope — I know, I know she’s looking down and smiling.
Is there one thing you're most proud of and, I don't even necessarily mean a championship because the route I would go is your work ethic. That's my biggest takeaway. And how you treat others. Those are the two things that I've learned, certainly, from being up close with you since 2003 and learning day to day. You’re the nicest person — and I don't say this because you're in front of me. I tell everybody you’re the nicest human I've ever met and your work ethic is truly unmatched. You'd have me come in at 7:00 am for workouts and you know I’m not a morning person. You would already be in a full sweat by then.
But you became (a morning person). You became one and you started smiling.
Only because you were smiling and you had the music going. And you would already be thinking ahead to your next workout and that got me through.
I'd say the thing that I'm most proud of, honestly, and this probably goes to watching Pat and her humbleness and just the type of person she was. She was a giver. And so the thing that I'm most proud of is our Catch The Stars Foundation and my sister and I, we started that 17 years ago in 2004.
Being able to provide opportunities to underprivileged youth, show them different paths that they might not have had and opportunities to come to the games. We just gave out of over $100,00 in scholarship money just this year. So we are continuing to grow. We impact over what over 1,500 kids a year. What you do on the court, that’s avenue and something I am proud of. But down the road, there’s gonna be more players that come, there’s gonna be more legends that cross the court, there’s gonna be more Hall of Famers. But the one thing that you can't discount is the impact that they've had on other people's lives.
You chose Alonzo Mourning and Dawn Staley as your presenters. I know you idolized Alonzo growing up. What kind of impact did he have and then Dawn Staley. I know she was most influential with leadership from your time together with Team USA.
Definitely. And you know, Scott, I can't give you everything because I got to use something for my speech. I mean, man, somebody is going to listen to this and say, ‘Wait, she said the same thing in her interview that she said in her speech.’ I’ve spent a lot of time working on this speech, but both of them were very influential in my early years. When we started thinking about presenters I'm like, ‘God, I mean, hands down, it would be Pat? And obviously she can't, she's not here. So it was like, OK, who would I want that’s a previous Hall of Famer to walk me up to the stage? My two idols growing up.
Growing up, Alonzo was my first, he was the first role model that I had outside of my house, outside of my dad. This was a funny story and I won’t share this on stage. But I remember the first time, I think I was in middle school and we went to one of the NBA All-Star games and we went early, we're watching the guys warm up. I were sitting in the stands and just like, Oh my God, you know, like that’s Alonzo Mourning down there. And I'm talking to my sister and my brother, and I'm like, ‘When I meet Alonzo, this is what I'm gonna say.’ I had like my whole speech planned out, all the things I was going to stay.'
My dad is down on the floor, he’s talking to Alonzo and they look up at me and he's like, ‘Tamika come down.’ And so I come down the stairs and I get down there and he introduces me to ‘Zo and literally, all the words, all the conversation that I had planned out — I was speechless. So my dad's looking at me like you've got to be kidding me, because I'm looking at him shaking his hand and I just like, I was mesmerized by Alonzo Mourning. So that was like my first introduction and I've gotten a lot better since then.
I consider him also one of my mentors, somebody that's in the front office for the Heat and when things go awry or even thinking about the front office opportunities before, he was somebody that I called down and talked to.
And what about Dawn Staley, who’s now coaching at South Carolina?
She taught me, as far as being a leader, leadership and just being able to use your voice. I watched Dawn literally in (Team USA) practices, how she was able to just command the room, command the respect of the play of all of us, but in particular the top-tier players and making sure that when we come together as an Olympian and as the Olympic Team representing the USA, it's not about your name on the back of the shirt. It's about the name that's on the front of the jersey, the USA and how we come together. We represent our country together and we're going out here to win the gold, not an individual accomplishment, not an MVP, not any of that. We want to go home with the gold.
To only play for one WNBA franchise, you just don’t see that anymore. How special was that for you to leave a legacy that this was my team and I want to finish there?
Well, not only this is my team, but this is my city. Being able to leave a legacy, not just on the court but beyond. It’s just a different era. Now you think about not just from the NBA or WNBA side, let’s think about college and the transfer portal and players leaving schools left and right. It’s become one of those things where it’s OK to make a change.
I’m glad that I was able to be here and to be able to learn, especially early on being able to learn what it takes to be a leader; being able to grow into being a leader; being able to use my voice as a leader and then, alongside all of that, being able to be a leader in the community and being able to impact outside of Bankers Life Fieldhouse.