Win One For Tamika
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MINNEAPOLIS, MINN. -- It was in the Fever’s home state of Indiana where then-Notre Dame football coach Knute Rockne gave his legendary, “Win one for the Gipper” speech.
In these WNBA Finals – while they are not carrying out a dying man’s wish – the Fever have developed their own motivational mantra. They want to win this one for Tamika Catchings.
Catchings has played in Indiana her entire 12-year career – accomplishing everything a player can without winning a WNBA title – and these current Fever players would like nothing more than to be the team that gets the 33-year-old forward that elusive title.
Catchings has only made the WNBA Finals one other time in her career, which came in 2009. In that series, the Fever had a 2-1 advantage over the Phoenix Mercury and had a chance to close it out on their home floor in Game 4. The Fever were not able to capitalize on that opportunity and then Phoenix, led by Diana Taurasi and Cappie Pondexter, took the title in Game 5.
Catchings says that 2009 is a big motivator for her and the four others that were on the 2009 team and this team. And, that lost opportunity pushes her every day.
“I’ve never seen someone want it so much as Tamika,” Indiana guard Erin Phillips said. “She’s just got it in her eyes. You can see it every time she hits the practice court and is in the weight room. Whatever she’s doing, winning a championship is her ultimate goal and it’s inspiring. It inspires us to work harder.”
If Catchings leaves one legacy as far as her basketball career goes, it’s that she’s a relentless worker. She won Defensive Player of the Year five times and has a lifetime’s worth of bruises and court burns from diving for loose balls and making hustle plays. And when a team leader has that kind of motor, it’s hard for it not to rub off on the rest of the team.
“On the court she shows how hard you have to work to get to places like this, so there’s a not a minute or a second at practice that she’s not working hard, and when you see her work like that, you have no choice but to work hard yourself,” Indiana guard Shavonte Zellous said.
“When Katie went down, the first thing [Catchings said], she pulled us together and she told us, ‘one man go down, somebody else gotta step up,’” Zellous said. “She’s our solider. Has that great leadership. She’s not going to let us lay down because somebody is out, she’s going to keep working, keep working until she can’t work no more and I think that’s why she’s one of the great players in this league today.”
Catchings is more than just one of the best players in the league today; she is unequivocally one of the all-time greats. A three-time gold medalist, the 2011 MVP and seven-time All Star, Catchings was also selected as one the league’s 15 greatest players in 2011. The lack of a WNBA title is the only blemish on her career as she is arguably the best player in WNBA history without a championship.
“She’s done it all and this is kind of the last little thing that lingers over,” Indiana guard Briann January said. “We’re with her every day and we see the work she puts in and it’s not every other day, it’s consistently every day. She’s the leader on our team. She leads not only by speaking what needs to be done, she leads by example. She puts in the work, and walks the walk and she deserves it. If anyone deserves it, she does.”
It’s clear talking to Fever players that they cherish playing with Catchings and that her leadership and play is a significant reason they are in the Finals in the first place.
“[Catchings] always has such a positive attitude, is always upbeat,” Pohlen said. “Even in the locker room after a loss she’ll just say things to keep us up and I think that shows what kind of person she is. No matter what happens, she’s always there for us and always helping us.”
Now it’s time for Catchings’ teammates to return the favor.