Tamika Catchings: Basketball and Beyond


WNBA.com caught up with Tamika Catchings about her goals for basketball and beyond.
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty Images

T
amika Catchings is arguably the most storied women’s basketball player of all time. Her accomplishments are numerous and impressive on paper -- she’s covered everything from three Olympic gold medals to a WNBA Championship to eight WNBA All-Star appearances -- but not even a list like that could begin to tell the whole story of Tamika Catchings, who is perhaps also the league’s biggest dreamer.

By now, most fans know the story of a young Tamika Catchings who suffered from a hearing disability that made speech difficult and forced her to wear hearing aids from a very early age.

“As a child,” she told TheEverygirl.com in an interview last year, “I was always the one that got teased for the way I looked, the way I talked, or the hearing aids in my ears. That’s how sports became so important to me. On the playing field, I knew that if I practiced and got really good, that no one could make fun of me for any of my disabilities. I used sports and faith as the two outlets that could keep me “safe.”

In fact, the teasing got to Tamika so much that she ditched the hearing aids in favor of looking like the rest of the kids her age, despite the hearing problems it caused.

But Catchings was forced to put all of that behind her as a freshman at the University of Tennessee when -- Pat Summitt being Pat Summitt (one of the greatest coaches the sport has ever seen) -- encouraged her to put the hearing aids back in so that she could better achieve the goals she set for herself as a little girl.

Now a truly admired adult, Catchings has become exactly that kind of role model for young girls aspiring to play women’s basketball at the highest level , or just young women who dare to dream as big as she did. Which is why (just a guess!) the Women’s Intersport Network in Kansas City recently asked her to be the keynote speaker at their annual luncheon.


L
ike any professional athlete, Catchings has spent her time this winter training and preparing for the future. But this year that preparation takes on a different form.

Usually it means Catchings is playing ball overseas like most of her peers, honing her game and fitness, getting ready for the upcoming WNBA season. She has previously spent four years with European teams in Moscow, Poland, and Istanbul, Turkey and last year competed in China. This year, however, she’s opted out of off-season play in order to prepare for what will happen after the season.

“Honestly, I mostly wanted to be at home,” Catchings told me over the phone from an airport in Kansas City, on her way home from the aforementioned women in sports luncheon, “but also I’m trying to figure out what else I am interested in.”

And I imagine that could be challenging for someone like Catchings who has many interests and many talents – she could easily do anything she wanted.


Tamika Catchings and her father
Harvey.
A professional basketball player with an impressive résumé and a passion for helping kids (Catchings has her own charity called Catch the Stars whose mission is to “empower youth to achieve their dreams by providing goal-setting programs that promote literacy, fitness and mentoring”), you could guess that she’d want to pursue coaching. But Catchings has other plans in mind.

“I want to maybe be a GM,” she said.

I can’t say this came as much of a surprise. Catchings told ESPN just that morning that she has wanted to pursue front-office opportunities. Not to mention, as the three-time president of the WNBA Players Association, Catchings has the experience and leadership required of a GM (or required of anyone in professional sports really). But I was still curious as to what – or who – inspired her.

“No one really inspired [me to want to be a GM],” she said, “just my love and passion for the game.”

Which is fair enough considering no one has love and passion for the game quite like Tamika Catchings. But it’s easy to see where she got all that passion from. In fact, Catchings talks about it often: her incredibly supportive family.

Tamika’s father, Harvey Catchings, played in the NBA for 12 years. Tamika has said that she wears the number 24 because it is the reverse of her father’s number 42. (Her brother and sister wear 21 and 12 respectively because 21 is half of 41 and 12 is both the reverse of 21 and half of 24.) Catchings has said on countless occasions that she gets her drive and competitiveness from her family.

And with all of these factors adding up, it’s certainly hard to imagine a world in which Tamika Catchings doesn’t achieve her dream of becoming a GM.


N
ot only is Catchings training for another WNBA season and trying to figure out what she wants to pursue after her basketball career, but she’s also chasing one more thing – another Olympic gold medal. “Just one more,” she assured me, laughing.

Catchings helped lead the US Olympic team to three successive gold medals and now she has her eyes on Rio 2016, hoping for a fourth.

I asked if she was interested in continuing with USA Basketball even after she was done playing. And while she said she was interested in a lot of different options right now, she also hinted that it’s a hard experience to leave behind.

“Once you’re part of the family, you’re always part of the family.”

And what a talented family to be a part of.

But right now Catchings has a WNBA season coming up in May– one where she hopes to win another WNBA championship. What does she think the secret to success is?

“Staying healthy” she answered resolutely. But she went on to explain that it will also take a lot of discipline, or what she calls “buying into the system,” for the 2014 Fever team to get to where they want to be.

Last season, the Indiana fell to Atlanta in the Eastern Conference Finals after upsetting the heavily favored, Elena Delle Donne-led Chicago Sky in the first round. Although they made the playoffs, the Fever was only 16-18 on the season. A record Catchings would like to see improve.

The Fever won their only WNBA championship on 2012, with Catchings at the helm. The championship solidified her place in history, making Tamika Catchings the ninth woman ever to win the three highest titles in women’s basketball: an NCAA championship, a WNBA championship, and an Olympic gold medal. (The eight other women who have won all three honors are: Sue Bird, Swin Cash, Cynthia Cooper-Dyke, Maya Moore, Ruth Riley, Sheryl Swoopes, Diana Taurasi, and Kara Wolters.)

But she can’t help but notice the game is changing.

“Just the caliber of players coming into the league now,” said Catchings, noting that the younger players were getting faster and stronger, likely because they grew up watching women’s basketball and were able to learn and grow in ways that the older players could not. “That’s no disrespect to the players I played with in the beginning…” Catchings added, “It’s a good thing.”

But what does that mean for a player like Catchings? I asked whether or not she changed her approach to her workouts.

“No different approach,” she said, before the phone cut us off. Which I should’ve known because when something’s working why try to fix it?