NCAA All-American and National Champion, six-time WNBA All-Star, seven-time All-WNBA team, three-time WNBA Defensive Player of the Year, finished in the top 3 in MVP voting in five of her eight seasons in the WNBA, and led the Fever in points, rebounds, assists and steals in all of her first six seasons in the league.
Okay, so we get it. She’s good. Alright, she’s not just good. She’s great, one of the best. But while she’s a great player, she is an even better person. And I can tell you why.
I knew it after I did a Skype interview with her earlier this year. But once I saw her play in person and met with her after the game, it only became clearer… Tamika Catchings is not your average player. She’s different. When she was growing up, she might have considered being “different” a bad thing. But in reality, there’s not a bad thing to say about her.
Growing up, Tamika was teased and bullied relentlessly by other kids. As early as preschool, tests determined that she had a hearing disability, which led to hearing aids and speech therapy. Add in braces and glasses, and the other kids couldn’t stop making fun of her. It was hard for Tamika, and at times she wanted to give up, but eventually she turned to basketball. The court quickly became the place where no one could make fun of her. She felt motivated to be the best she could be on the court, and now she’s one of the best there is period.
When I was at the Fever/Sparks game a couple of weeks ago I can tell you there wasn’t one person who would even think about making fun of Tamika. The moment her name was announced it was obvious the crowd loved her. The first thing she did when she stepped on the court was give some of the players from the opposing team a big hug. But once that first whistle blew, her game face was on. If there’s a loose ball, expect that Tamika will be fighting for it. More times than not, you’ll be right. The word “heart” is thrown around too loosely in sports these days, which is unfortunate because Tamika personifies what it means to have heart. There’s a quote from Tamika that I heard awhile back, and I think it’s what made her so easy for me to like. Not only because she said it, but because I’ve seen her live it out and back it up with her actions.
““It goes back to my resilience, my work ethic, and the love I have for the game. Every game I play I imagine there is one person out there who has never been to a WNBA game or every seen women play first hand. I want them to be like ‘Man, that No. 24 is relentless and gives it her all!’”
Don’t worry Tamika, I can tell you from experience, that’s what everyone was thinking in Conseco Fieldhouse that night.
That right there had me convinced I couldn’t find a professional athlete I like more than her. But of course, it gets better. Off the court, her heart is even bigger… if that’s possible. Her Catch the Stars Foundation, “prepares our youth to catch their dreams one star at a time.” The Catch The Stars Foundation aims to motivate at-risk, disadvantaged and underprivileged youth between the ages of 9- 16 in the metropolitan Indianapolis area to achieve their dreams and goals by providing positive academic and sports related programs. These programs encourage fundamentals, including reading, study skills, organization, goal setting and sportsmanship, as well as leading healthier lifestyles through mentoring, basketball camps and fitness clinics. The foundation includes a youth basketball camp, Catch on to Fitness Clinics, STARS, Catch the Stars Reading Corner, Catch the Stars IPS Scholar Athlete Scholarships and Catchings Corner. I know what you’re thinking: so many athletes have foundations or charities where they attach their name and maybe show up for a little speech before events. That’s not the case with Tamika… in fact, you’re most likely to find her right in the middle of a big group of kids, fitting in perfectly despite her WNBA stardom. I asked what she does during the season with the Foundation. The answer? Just as much as out of season. I should have expected that by now. She’s passionate about it, just as she is about basketball; so to her there’s no question that she should stay just as involved. She credits her desire for serving the community to her parents because of her dad’s involvement in the community while he played in the NBA. She calls her parents her heroes. I hope she knows how many girls would say the same about her.
Her gifts as a player, her generosity as a philanthropist, and her humility as a person are impressive. She’s a true hero to young females, leading by example with a heart as big as her game.