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Memories from the Indiana Fever's 2012 championship season
That title team is reuniting in Indy this weekend for the 10-year anniversary and will be honored at Sunday's game against Connecticut.
It was 10 years ago that the Indiana Fever gathered for training camp in Indianapolis not knowing if this would be the one. You never know, but this team had the pieces. They had been to the WNBA Finals before — in 2009 — but after being in the league for more than a decade, they had not won a championship.
Basketball fans in Indiana were eager to see it done and to celebrate.
The Fever had Tamika Catchings, one of the best to ever play, and who helped the franchise enjoyed sustained success with 12 straight playoff berths.
The architect of the franchise for 19 years, the one who drafted Catchings third overall in 2001 and believes deeply in a strong culture is Kelly Krauskopf. She started with the WNBA as its first director of basketball operations and I would have liked to see her be hired as WNBA president last decade as that positioned turned over several times. They needed a leader, they needed someone devoted to the league and willing to work for sustained success.
Krauskopf just completed her fourth season as assistant general manager for the Pacers, moving to the men’s game and just last week, she was honored to serve as the Pacers’ representative at the draft lottery.
I started out as a fan of the team for a few seasons before I made the most of an opportunity, joining the team each summer as a ball boy. I was the first for a women’s team. However, I grew up with three older sisters who all played and so there was not a line of distinction between the girls and boys game.
It’s just basketball.
In a time before it was cool to support the women’s game, I attended almost every Fever home game and then became a ball kid after one of my sisters — who later won a high school basketball state championship and walked on at Indiana University — had a conflict and couldn’t work. No subs were available, so I filled in, did a good job and was asked back.
I was thrilled.
I’ll forever be grateful for equipment manager Elizabeth Dewhirst for the offer because it shaped the rest of my life. (And I still have the pair of gray sweatpants she gave me from the equipment closet as a thank you for coming in on a non-game day to help.)
Almost instantly, I had a connection with Catchings. I soon rebounded for her before every home game, from spot shooting to free throws, she worked harder hours before games than some did during games. She was first one on the court and one of the last to leave the fieldhouse after each game.
That hard-work mentality and dedication rubbed off on me. I saw what it takes to be special and successful.
Like me, she had a routine and stuck to it. She liked my crisp passes with the ball in the correct positioning. It was simple things that went a long way.
My time with the Fever, not just that championship season but all 10 years, gave me invaluable experience around an elite basketball team. It helped me understand work dynamics, how a locker room operates, what it takes for a player to be a true leader, and all the extra work nobody on the outside has any clue about.
It’s why when writing about the Pacers’ season, I give extra thought to the training staff, the equipment manager, designated COVID protocol manager, etc. They do thankless work and without them behind the scenes, no team would be successful on the court.
On Sunday, May 22, the team is getting back together. They’re all in town to celebrate the 10th anniversary of that championship season. From Krauskopf to coach Lin Dunn — she’s now back as the interim general manager — and the entire team, this will be special. (It’s also their final game at Gainbridge Fieldhouse this season due to the third phase of renovations.)
The team will be honored throughout the game, which tips at 2 p.m. ET and fittingly is against the Connecticut Sun. They had so many great battles over the years. And that 2012 championship team went into Connecticut and won the Eastern Conference Finals, securing a trip back to the WNBA Finals.
Here are some memories from that championship season that stand out.
I finished that season as the equipment manager, so I was at every road game as well. I had just graduated from IU and started writing for Pacers.com, but then Krauskopf asked if I would help them finish the season. Of course. It was an honor, especially because I knew it was going to be my final season as a ballkid, or as I preferred to say, locker room attendant.
The team motto was FINAO — failure is not an option. Players included it at the end of tweets, wrote it on their shoes and other items. They weren’t the favorites, had injuries to several rotation players, but again, FINAO.
This team was full of life and full of character. Everyone played their role on the court and in the locker room. Shavonte Zellous was often dancing and singing. We had a song we’d enjoy on the bus — “At the same damn time!”
Tammy Sutton-Brown was the veteran and we often joked how she was the team mom. And she embraced it. She looked out for everyone and I always appreciated that.
Most won’t remember how the Fever did NOT have home-court advantage after the first round. They won one game on the road in the conference finals and finals on their way to a title.
Erlana Larkins was a speculator addition to the team. She played hard and with force, and had so much success on the glass. That was her first season in Indy and she became a big contributor.
After the team won in Connecticut, we went to Minnesota. And their jerseys needed updated. I was given patches with “The Finals” and a WNBA logo on them, but had to find someone to do it in Minnesota before Game 1 of the finals. Again, it’s the littlest of things I remember.
I’m so glad Katie Douglas was able to put on her uniform and check into the decisive Game 4 at The Fieldhouse. She was out with an injury, and I can’t imagine the mental challenge of not being out in there in the biggest moments. This is what you work for as an athlete. She was in no condition to play, but coach Dunn allowed for the Perry Meridian product to check in, appearing in a finals game during this championship run. What a moment that was.
The same goes for Jeanette Pohlen, who suffered a torn left ACL in Game 2 and then could only contribute from the bench the rest of the way. I’m glad Mama P was there in Minnesota when she went down.
The Pacers’ support for the team was appreciated. Like how then-coach Frank Vogel and several players bought tickets for fans to Game 3 to fill the place up.
After the confetti came down and the championship trophy had been hoisted, I remember Lance Stephenson, Paul George and George Hill, just outside the yellow ropes on the court, standing there. They were watching and dreaming of their time. I remember one of them saying, “We’re next. This is going to be us.”
I’m glad the Fever were able to finish off the Minnesota Lynx at home so they could celebrate WITH fans. You’ll take it however you can get it, but it’s extra special to win a championship on your home floor. They did it with their loved ones and dedicated fans surrounding the court, soaking it in.
A post-game party for team family and friends was then held on the practice court. (Pat Summitt was there for Catch.)
My favorite moment was long after the buzzer sounded, confetti fell and thousands of pictures were taken. It was probably two hours after the game and just two people remained in the locker room: Myself and Catchings. It didn’t matter that the season was over and there wasn’t another game to prepare for. Win or lose, Catch followed her routine — and that included a trip to the wet room, where she would alternate between a cold and hot tub. She’s also always in demand, so I think this was a special moment she enjoyed by herself. No noise, no distraction. All she had overcome, the daily grind, workouts and countless injuries. She had done it. Finally, a WNBA Championship.
In hindsight, I wish I had taken a photo of that moment for Catch. A moment of victory and also solitude.
I finished up what I needed to do with the Fever (and Sun), then walked over to Meridian Street, where the team celebrated at a nightclub. Afterward, I made the three-block walk back to The Fieldhouse and slept in the locker room, as I did occasionally.
They had done it. What a way to go out.
One of the more hilarious moments for me was what happened a day later. I caught up on laundry, helped players gather their things and be on their way. They were able to take a jersey or two with them. However, guard Erin Phillips said I still had her championship jersey in the back. It was a hectic last 24 hours, and I checked again and again. But nope. At the locker of each player, they had a locked area underneath where their uniform hung. I unlocked hers, opened it up and found several jerseys. That will always be a good laugh.
Locker room cleanup day is also a sad reality that the team will never be the same, that change is inevitable. There’s always turnover. I remember a few players who were going to be free agents insisting on cleaning out their lockers despite wanting to run it back the next season. It was nothing personal, but a reality that they may not be back and a message to the front office that re-signing the players should not be assumed.
The team never got the championship parade they deserved. It was rained out in late October. So instead, we took a photo on a float outside The Fieldhouse, then went inside the entry pavilion for what felt more like a pep rally. Now the next year, the team was part of a parade — invited to serve as Grand Marshal to the 500 Festival parade, held each year on the day before the Indianapolis 500. But it was not the same.
Almost 10 years later, I have enjoyed seeing the entire team find success after basketball. (Briann January is still playing, though, out west with the Seattle Storm.)
Sutton-Brown is in her first year working for Raptors 905, Toronto’s G League franchise.
Pohlen returned to Stanford, her alma mater, and was a coaching intern this past season. She worked with current Fever guard Lexie Hull.
Douglas is now a mom of three after recently having twins and she owns several local Orangetheory Fitness locations.
Catchings went into the Hall of Fame, worked in different roles with the Pacers and Fever, continued to grow her foundation and opened multiple tea shops.
Inside my office, I have a framed Fever jersey with my name on the back and the number ‘10’ for my 10 seasons with the Fever. A Finals logo patch too. I still probably have over 75 Fever items from over the years — from t-shirts to polos, sweats, quarter-zips, hats and more. It was a big part of my life for 10 seasons.
Lastly, I am disappointed that one special person won’t be at the celebration Sunday: Frank McGrath, the longtime photographer for the Pacers and Fever. He captured them winning the title and so much more. But he passed away a year ago after 44 years with Pacers Sports & Entertainment.
He should be there to smile, celebrate and enjoy the moment. Then, send photos to those involved with the simple subject line “You,” like usual.
Did you notice the caption in almost every story? The photos were taken by Frank.