Bird on Tamika Catchings

If youíre Tamika Catchings, you could not ask for a greater endorsement as you vie for your first-ever WNBA MVP Award than to have Larry Bird in your corner. The Pacers President epitomized all-around excellence as a player with the Boston Celtics, having won three consecutive NBA MVP Awards in the mid í80s, the first player to do so since Wilt Chamberlain. In a recent conference call with reporters, Bird outlined why Tamika deserves the honor, the similarities in their games and why he thinks of Magic Johnson when he watches her play. Here is the transcript of Birdís comments.

Q: What makes Tamika a special player in your opinion?

Larry Bird: Well, Iíve watched Tamika for a lot of years play basketball and one thing that I noticed from her Ė and not only does she lead her team in every category Ė but the winning attitude and leadership. But the one thing I noticed about her that you donít find in very many basketball players, men or women, is she never gives up on a play. Sheís always digging, always going after it and always trying to get her hands on the ball. Thatís the one thing that I notice that the great players have and sheís got it.

Q: Tamika has been very good for a long time. Why hasnít she won the MVP Award at this point of her career?

Larry Bird: Obviously, thereís a lot of great talent in her league. You can look at all of the players. But when you look at a franchise player and Tamika has done the same things over and over for a number of years, she should be considered every year, which she really has been.

I donít look at players that score 25 points a game and do nothing else. I look at these players that do everything on a nightly basis and Tamika definitely does that.

Q: Do you think a player like Tamika gets taken for granted given that she puts up these numbers year after year and has been so consistent?

Larry Bird: Yeah, that happens all the time. Sheís so consistent and you know what youíll get out of her every day. You take some players in any league and theyíll have one really good game out of three but Tamika has always been steady and has always been there every time and people take that for granted. But coaches love that. Coaches love to know who they can depend on night after night and sheís definitely one of those players.

I agree with you. Sometimes you take these kids for granted but as an ex-coach, boy, you love that.

Q: Itís very difficult to compare menís basketball to womenís basketball. Can you talk about three or four players that maybe the casual fan might be able to relate to to Tamika. For example, she plays like so and so of the NBA?

Larry Bird: Well, since I canít talk about players because of the lockout, she reminds me, the way she comes to play every night like I used to, I used to try to give everything I had every night and try to score and always score a lot of points but I always knew we had to have the rebounds, the assists, you had to play defense. Her efficiency rating is up real high, sheís in the 20s. So, if you look at all of the things sheís does for her team Ė Earvin Johnson Ė he led his team in assists, he had his rebounds, he had his points, whatever it took to win. It doesnít necessarily have to be 25 points every night, it can be 10 or 12 but if you do all of the other things, the steals, you guard people and sheís known as one of the best defenders in the league. Sheís good in every area. So, thereís a lot of players whose been like her. The one thing that stands out for me, like I said earlier, is that she doesnít give up on a play and you donít see that too often in any league.

Q: As you have gotten to know her, in what other ways does she remind you of yourself?

Larry Bird: Sheís had some tough injuries over the years and it seems like she does whatever she can do to get back onto the court. Sheís a winner. Sheís what we call a gamer. Sheís there to play, she wants to play to win and she wants to pull everybody else along with her. Sheís got some very good players on her team this year and thatís why theyíre first in their conference. I just think that whatever Tamika is doing, she wants to win. She has that winning attitude, she carries herself like a champion. Sheís a franchise maker. She is the reason Indiana Fever has done really well over the course. Once they got Tamika, things changed around here.

Q: Sheís been playing for a decade and I donít see any signs of slowing down. Can you talk about her physical fitness and what she does to maintain herself? That seems a very important part of her game.

Larry Bird: She stays fit year round. Sheís always working on her game. Always listening. Sheíll ask you questions from time to time. She puts her time in. She knows how important this is, not only for her but for her city. Sheís been very involved in everything the Fever has done around here. Sheís very active in the community. She keeps herself in great shape. If she has an injury, she takes care of it. She does everything she possibly can to stay on the court.

Q: What do you think it means to cities to have players who so much identify with the work ethic of the city such as Tamika in Indianapolis and you when you were in Boston.

Larry Bird: We got Peyton Manning with the Colts, heís been with them since Day 1. I think itís very valuable. I was very fortunate in Boston to stay with the same franchise. When you talk about Tamika Catchings, you talk about the Indiana Fever. When you talk about the Indianapolis Colts, you talk about Peyton Manning. So, itís very important because you become a part of the city. Reggie Miller, here for 19 years, heís always been the face of the franchise. Itís no different. Itís very important for Tamika to finish her career out here with the Fever because when you talk about the Fever, itís Tamika Catchings.

Q: With the WNBA season winding down, do you get the sense that things are progressing where we will have an NBA season?

Larry Bird: Cliff, you know I canít talk about that.

Q: You know I got to ask.

Larry Bird: I love you, Cliff, but címon. Letís get fired up for the Fever and the playoffs.

Q: If it comes down to a Game 3 in Eastern Conference Finals, of the Playoffs, are you going to give away tickets to pack the house?

Larry Bird: Well, we got to see what happens but Iíll tell you this, the enthusiasm they [fans] brought here during the playoffs the last few years has been great. Weíve been down a little bit. To be able to come to these games and watch these girls compete at a high level, there is nothing better than that.

Q: Youíve won championships in your career and Tamika won at Tennessee and in the Olympics yet hasnít won at the WNBA level. As an athlete how tough is that as you get older, do you sense an urgency with Tamika to win now more than ever since she hasnít won a WNBA championship?

Larry Bird: I donít think any more now than ever because that was always her goal and thatís her desire and thatís why she plays, to be known as a champion. Itís tough. They donít give them things away and you have to earn them. Weíve had a lot of great players go through the NBA that are very deserving but never won an championship but I think this is the year. I think Tamika is going to lead them all the way and hopefully they can pull it out. Itís very valuable to be on a winning team because itís a team thing. It not only brings glory to yourself but it brings a lot of recognition to the state and the people who follow the Fever.

Q: What been your growth in terms of appreciating the womenís now that youíve gotten older and have watched the womenís game more?

Larry Bird: Thanks for asking that question. I was just thinking about an hour ago that in my small town we didnít even have a girlís team. When I go to watch them, they just wasnít there yet. When I got to college, they had a pretty good little team. I was fortunate enough one time, in í77, I think it was, I went and played in the World Games. I just decided with my friend to run down there and watch the girls play and I got to see Annie Meyers play and it just opened my eyes. It was just amazing how good these girls were so I followed their careers the rest of the way through college. I watched their games. In just a short period of time how far theyíve come with their game has been just unbelievable.

Q: Do you think the Fever having the best record in the East would maybe be a clincher for Tamika to win MVP?

Larry Bird: Yeah, definitely. Itís big. I think itís solidified what sheís worked for and done. Sheís been on winning teams but has she ever been on one that she is the face of the franchise and one that has really dominated her game within the franchise. They won a lot of games and had a lot of success but this would top everything off. If you talk to any player, in the womenís or menís league and ask one thing that they always strive for, they always talk about the championship.

Q: You talk about that instinct to play hard every single time you go out there. That has to be something that is ingrained in a person. Is it just inside you?

Larry Bird: I think a lot of it is. I really believe that in my case because I had really good coaches at a young age that when you stepped out on that court, if they kept score, youíre playing for real. A lot of it has to do with, you donít want to embarrass yourself, itís a challenge, youíre competing every time, if youíre a competitor you want to win. Now we have a lot of players in our league that arenít like that. If they play one out of five games and they do well, thatís all you hear about. But people who come out there and give it there all every game, there is very few of them at any league that does it on a consistent basis and on a high level like sheís done over the years.

Q: Talk about her versatility, which speaks to a lot of work ethic, which is another way which links to the way you played basketball.

Larry Bird: Yeah. If you want to win and play against the best in the world, you canít be just a scorer or a rebounder, youíve got to be able to compete in every area of the game. You have to see what your team needs. If itís defending a big-time scorer, itís going to take something out of you and maybe youíre not going to score as many points that night but you have to defend somebody. If you have to get a rebound, can you get that rebound? She shoots 87 percent from the free throw line. So, sheís very versatile in everything she does. I think Tamika plays the game and she goes out there and you can watch her and she sees what they need and sheíll do it.