Tamika Catchings was all these and more.
“I am incredibly honored to be included in this year’s Naismith Hall of Fame, and God only knows the dreams I had as a little girl to be able to follow in my father's footsteps,” said Catchings, whose father Harvey, a former NBA player, introduced her to the sport.
Before she made a name in the pros, Catchings was a collegiate standout who played for the University of Tennessee, coached by the late great Pat Summitt. As a Lady Vol, she earned multiple individual awards, like the All-American, Naismith College Player of the Year award, AP Player of the Year, USBWA Women's National Player of the Year, and WBCA Player of the Year. If those are not enough, she was also crowned a national champion in her freshman year after a flawless 39-0 run.
In 2001, Catchings was drafted 3rd overall by the Indiana Fever, where she had a brilliant 15-year career, one that often gets forgotten in the new age of WNBA superstars. But now that she is in her rightful place at the Hall of Fame, I have the pleasure of reminding you of her brilliance.
Catchings’ rookie year was nothing short of impressive. She averaged 18.6 points per game during the regular season, tied the WNBA steals record back then of nine steals in a game, and dominated the playoffs with a career-high 20.3 points per game. She also went on to win Rookie of the Year, beating out legends like Sue Bird and Swin Cash for the title.
During the 2005 season, Catchings became the fastest WNBA player to score 2,000 points, doing so in only four seasons. As the versatile monster that she was, she was also the fastest to 1,000 rebounds, 400 assists, and 300 steals. To cap off the season, she was named the WNBA Defensive Player of the Year, and would go on to win this distinction four more times. Over the course of her playing career, Catchings also represented Team USA, from 2002-2016, where she won four consecutive Olympic gold medals.
Catchings’ MVP season came in her 10th year in the league where she averaged 15.5 points, 7.1 rebounds, and 3.5 assists per contest. The following year, the Fever would go on to defeat the defending champions, the Minnesota Lynx, and cement their legacy as the only other Eastern Conference team to win a WNBA title. It may have been her only championship, but Catchings made the most of it with a game-high 25 points in the last game and the Finals MVP.
In the years following the 2012 season, Catchings racked up a ridiculous amount of individual accolades before she decided to retire. August 23, 2014 marked the day when she became the WNBA's all-time leading playoff scorer and all-time leading playoff rebounder, surpassing the legendary Lisa Leslie’s 908 career playoff points and 471 career playoff rebounds.
In her 14th season, Catchings surpassed Tina Thompson’s record for most All-Star appearances, after she was voted as an All-Star for the 10th time in her career. In her final season, Catchings secured her 3,308th rebound to become the WNBA all-time leader in regular season rebounds, a record previously held by none other than Leslie, now held by Sylvia Fowles.
Despite her retirement five years ago, Catchings still ranks in the top 10 of several major statistical categories. Some notable rankings are 1st in total career steals by a long shot with 1,074 total, 1st in career steals per game average, 3rd in total career rebounds, 2nd all-time career playoff scoring (recently surpassed by Diana Taurasi), and 1st all-time career playoff rebounds with 598 total.
Catchings’ true greatness, however, goes beyond her long list of basketball achievements.
Like many WNBA players, Catchings has made it her life goal to give back to her community and mentor others. Currently the Fever’s vice president for basketball operations and general manager, she is also the president and founder of Catch the Stars Foundation, whose mission is to motivate at-risk youth in Indianapolis to pursue their dreams. The charitable organization provides positive academic and sports-related programs, such as literacy classes and fitness clinics.
Catchings has been an advisor to Nneka Ogwumike, her successor as president of the WNBA Players’ Association (WNBPA). Catchings is also a prominent advocate of the Black Lives Matter movement, constantly pushing for equality and social justice. She is a stellar example of a player who dedicated herself to becoming more than just an athlete.
During her Hall of Fame speech, Catchings gave one of the most memorable and inspiring quotes I’ve ever heard in my life: "Basketball chose me, an awkward, lanky, introverted tomboy, born with a hearing disability, a speech impediment, and a will to overcome obstacles, dream big and to change the world."
“We all have dreams and goals,” Catchings continued. “And whether you’re young or old, born with a disability or have been told of the things you can’t accomplish, tonight I share the same words that my parents shared with me, with a twist. If anyone can do it, you can. Shoot for the stars, work hard, and catch your dream.”
Tamika Catchings is a trailblazer in women’s basketball and she was a gift to the game. Her induction into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame is a befitting recognition for a career that was, without a doubt, brilliant and legendary.