Inside The W with Michelle Smith

Sure, it’s getting to be time to talk about the postseason and the teams that could make a run for a WNBA title in this historic 20th anniversary season. But first, it’s time to talk about Tamika Catchings, who will hold a unique place in the league’s history no matter how her final season ends.

By the time Catchings’ legendary career is over in just a few weeks, she will have her name etched all over the record books.

The face of the Fever franchise ranks in the top 10 in WNBA history in points, rebounds, assists, steals, field goals, 3-point field-goals, free throws and minutes played.

She needs 17 rebounds to pass Lisa Leslie for the league’s all-time rebounding record. She is already the all-time leader in free-throws and steals. And she’s only 163 points from passing Tina Thompson as the league’s all-time leading scorer, a feat that’s likely not within reach, but underscores her status as one of the league’s most complete players.

She is a 10-time All-Star, a 12-time All-WNBA honoree.

But to understand Catchings’ legacy in this league is to grasp that what she did might be outweighed by how she did it.

Tamika Catchings is a beloved, respected figure in the sport. Not just in the WNBA, not just in women’s basketball, but in all of basketball.

She was born with basketball in her blood. Her father Harvey carved out a long professional career, including an 11-year stint in the NBA. She spent chunks of her childhood overseas during her father’s pro career, playing alongside Kobe Bryant in the streets of Italy while their dads played professionally.

But to understand Catchings’ legacy in this league is to grasp that what she did might be outweighed by how she did it.

Catch, as she is known around the world, is a relentless competitor who has done her work on both ends of the floor at every level — college, professional and international. She’s also shined with her work off the floor, taking a significant role in the WNBA Players Union to represent all of the league’s players.

The league should be naming its Defensive Player of the Year award after Catchings for all the times she’s won it — a record five times.

But it’s her community work that puts her in even more rarefied air. She’s twice been named the Dawn Staley Community Service Award winner for a season’s worth of community outreach, most recently just last week. And she’s twice been named the Kim Perrot Sportsmanship Award winner.

Off the floor, she’s been a champion. On the floor, she’s been an integral part of some of the league’s seminal moments.

The 2009 WNBA Finals, pitting her Indiana Fever and the Phoenix Mercury, might still be the most exciting final series in league history. Catchings and Diana Taurasi battled to a brilliant finish in a series won by the Mercury in five games, but one that changed the course of history for the Fever.

Fever ownership was talking about selling the franchise before Catchings and her teammates gave the owners and the city of Indianapolis a compelling new reason to pay attention. Indiana’s trip to the Finals gave the Fever new life in Indiana.

And then came 2012. The Fever reached the Finals against the mighty Minnesota Lynx, who were going for their second straight title. But there might not have been a player in the league outside of the Lynx roster who wasn’t rooting for Catchings to get her first WNBA title.

And last fall, the Indiana Fever proved how important postseason experience and toughness is, rallying from the No. 4 seed in the East to oust the New York Liberty in a thrilling three-game series and reaching the Finals. This time — once again taking on the Lynx — Indiana pushed the WNBA Finals to five games. The Fever fell short in a physical, bruising series, but Catchings and Co. took the league’s standard-bearer to the limit.

And now one more shot for Catch.

This has been an up-and-down season for the Fever. Indiana continues to struggle to get momentum even now, with three losses in its last five games.

But in this stretch run of Catchings’ brilliant, unparalleled career, is there anyone that doubts she could make one more run?

This league is going to miss Catchings deeply. They will miss her competitive fire, her class and commitment to community service. I’m just going to say it: Tamika Catchings could even be the WNBA President one day.

Because you know she just can’t be done giving to this game quite yet.

VIEW FROM THE BOTTOM

With so many teams in the playoff mix, it can’t be easy to be playing out the string in Dallas or San Antonio, where it would appear that neither team has a legitimate shot at making a postseason appearance.

In recent years, there’s been a pretty significant consolation prize at the end of a difficult season — an opportunity the following spring to draft a franchise-changing player.

It happened in Minnesota, with the selection of Maya Moore in 2011. In Phoenix, when it selected Brittney Griner in 2013. It happened in Chicago with Elena Della Donne, also in 2013, and in Los Angeles with Nneka Ogwumike in 2012. And Seattle is a team on the rise after getting the No. 1 pick the past two years and selecting Jewell Loyd and Breanna Stewart.

But the painful reality is that the 2017 WNBA Draft doesn’t appear, as of yet, prepared to yield an immediate game-changer.

Some of the top projected picks in 2017 are skilled, strong players, but none of them on paper look to be the quality of a Loyd, Stewart or Delle Donne.

A short list of the top seniors in the Class of 2017 includes: Baylor forward Nina Davis, Washington guard Kelsey Plum — the only two rising seniors on the WBCA All-America team from last spring — as well as South Carolina post Alaina Coates, Stanford forward Erica McCall, Notre Dame guard Lindsay Allen, Arizona State’s Sophie Brunner, Kentucky guard Makayla Epps, Maryland center Brionna Jones, Florida State guard Leticia Romero and Maryland guard Shatori Walker-Kimbrough.

None of these players have a full resume of championships or a shelf of repeat All-American awards to take into their final collegiate season.

Any one of them may be outstanding WNBA players in the not too distant future. But at this point, it’s probably safe to say that none of them feel like a franchise-changing player for the teams at the bottom of the WNBA standings.

But when you are looking for bright spots at the end of a tough season, you can only have hope that next year will be better. And young players, they represent hope better than anything else.


Longtime WNBA reporter Michelle Smith will have a weekly column on WNBA.com throughout the 2016 season.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the WNBA or its clubs.

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