Tamika Catchings player profile Indianapolis Star
The hallways in Bankers Life Fieldhouse and the Pacers Sports and Entertainment offices are a warm and welcoming part of Tamika Catchings' post-basketball career.
The greatest player in WNBA history is often greeted with a, "What's up Hall of Famer?" whenever she's on the Pacers side of the building.
"Hey, H-O-F'er," is another common refrain as she makes her way around.
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The affable Catchings just smiles and laughs off the pleasantries.
Despite growing up the daughter of NBA veteran Harvey Catchings, making anyone's Hall of Fame was never Cathings' goal.
Her goal was actually much bigger.
"The Hall of Fame wasn't really something that you looked at, especially for me as a little girl," she said. "What I looked at was wanting to be in the NBA. That was my goal.
"It wasn't, 'I want to be in the Hall of Fame,' it was, 'I want to be in the NBA.'"
Catchings never played in the NBA, but her impressive list of accomplishments left a lasting impact of the game of basketball.
Catchings, Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, coaches Kim Mulkey, Barbara Stevens, Eddie Sutton and Rudy Tomjanovich were elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on Saturday. Catchings has already been named to the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame.
Her goal to become the first woman in the NBA — fueled by her unwavering drive to succeed — led her along a path of hardship, achievement and triumph, ultimately earning her a spot among basketball's greatest players.
NBA dad let children find own passions
Harvey Catchings never pressured his children to play basketball. His basketball journey wasn't one of a childhood prodigy groomed to play the sport.
He felt it was important to let son Kenyon, and daughters Tauja and Tamika find their own passions in life.
Harvey's high school basketball career spanned just eight games. Despite being 6-6, Harvey Catchings hadn't grown into his athleticism yet. (An aunt worked at UCLA and the coaching staff found a junior college for him to develop.) Before taking to the hardwood, Harvey played in the band. But he knew he had the tools to help his children reach their athletic goals.
"I said, you have two choices, we can go out and we can just play and you guys can have fun and recreation. Or I can work on teaching you guys the fundamentals that will make you guys better basketball players, better athletes," he said.
"They said they wanted to be able to play in high school and college. Tamika said, 'I want to play in the NBA. I'm going to be the first women to play in the NBA.'"
Health problems prevented Kenyon's basketball career from truly taking off. Tauja developed into one of the best players in University of Illinois history, finishing her career ranked top 10 in points, rebounds, steals, blocks, assists and games played. But it was Tamika who showed otherworldy talent from an early age.
Still too young to get her shot off, Tamika was a defensive menace during games against grown men and older boys at their local church.
The battles between the two sisters were even more intense. Bloodied noses and bruises were common when they played one-on-one. It was after one of their infamous driveway duels when Harvey first realized Tamika's potential.
Tired of the roughhousing between Tauja and Tamika, Harvey took the ball away from the sisters, ending the game. Tauja stormed inside their suburban Chicago house. But Tamika remained outside, practicing her dribbling, shooting and rebounding with an imaginary ball.
"I kind of shake my head as I look back, because I always told her to find your passion. — basketball was her passion," he said.
The rivalry on the court soon turned into a partnership. As teammates at Stevenson High School, Tamika became the first sophomore to win Illinois Miss Basketball, leading the Patriots to a state title and No. 1 ranking nationally in 1995.
After their parents divorce, Tamika moved to Texas with her mother Wanda. Tauja stayed in Deerfield for her senior year, winning Illinois Miss Basketball in 1996.
Just 21 months apart, their competitiveness was equaled by their strong bond.
Tauja was Tamika's protector.
Tamika was born with a hearing impairment. Growing up hearing impaired, at times, Tamika dealt with teasing and bullying. The feeling of being different caused Tamika to be introverted. She avoided doing interviews after games, deferring to Tauja to speak for her.
Now, hundreds of miles away, Tamika was forced to deal with her insecurities as she began attending Duncanville High School.
The versatile 6-1 forward was one of the top basketball players in her class, but moving away from her siblings was hard.
Tauja remembers the frantic phone call from their mother before Tamika's first day of school in Texas. Tamika wasn't sure if she could navigate her new school without her siblings' support.
"Moving to Texas it was kind of like, you're on your own, you've got to fend for yourself and she was terrified," Tauja said.
"It was definitely a totally new experience for her, but she did grow, she did find her voice. She found a really good group of friends that she still communicates with today."
Tamika grew on and off the court in Texas. She became the first player to officially record a quintuple-double as a senior in 1997. As the accolades continue to pile up, the first glimpses of the outgoing person she grew to become starting peeking through her reserved outer shell.
And it was in Texas, sitting in her living room, where she realized where the next step of her life was headed.
Tennessee comes calling
Tamika Catchings still remembers getting the letters from University of Tennessee assistants Holly Warlick and Mickie DeMoss after her sophomore season in high school.
Images of head coach Pat Summit, the Lady Vols and that Volunteer Orange played over and over in her head after she watched them on TV.
Seeing the dominance of the Lady Vols sparked the realization that the women's game was just as powerful and impactful as the men's. Summit and the superstar players of the '90s were role models to Catchings.
By her senior year, Summit wasn't just a figure on the television. She was in Catching's 真人百家家乐官网网站home, recruiting her to join the Lady Vols.
"The first time I saw Tennessee and the first time I saw women's basketball on national television, I was hooked," Catchings said.
"And then senior year, Pat sitting in my living room like, 'Wow, Pat.'"
Summit challenged Catchings during her time in Knoxville. When she first arrived on campus the gregarious forward was not wearing her hearing aids, reverting back to the introverted nature she had as a child.
Summit knew Catchings could never reach her true potential if she wasn't willing to speak up and become a leader.
"When I got there my freshman year I didn't talk to a lot of people," Catchings said. "I was still really shy. I wasn't wearing my hearing aids.
"Pat was like, 'Your future is brighter not just from the basketball world, but you'll be more than just your hearing impairment. You'll be more than just a basketball player. You have an opportunity to impact lives and to give other people hope.'"
Catchings teamed with Chamique Holdsclaw and Semeka Randall, leading Tennessee to an undefeated National Championship as a freshman in 1998.
As a junior, Catchings earned Naismith College Basketball Player of the Year and AP Player of the Year honors.
After taking a supporting role early in her career, Catchings re-discovered her voice and developed her leadership skills her final two years in Knoxville. Those skills made her more than equipped to become the face of the Indiana Fever.
"If you don't know Tamika personally — she's driven. She's driven to be successful. She's driven to win. She's driven to be the best," former Indiana Fever head coach Linn Dunn said.
"You have to understand that Tamika's been in a leadership role a long time in her life. In particular as a player at the University of Tennessee. By the time she was a junior and a senior she had been thrust into a leadership role. She's in a leadership role with the Fever and she's run her own business, the Catch the Stars Foundation, all the time that she was playing professionally."
WNBA Draft and uncertainty
Catchings left Knoxville as one of the most accomplished college basketball players in NCAA history, but her standing heading into the WNBA Draft was uncertain. She tore her ACL her senior year at UT, meaning she'd miss her rookie year.
Coming off a nine-win inaugural campaign, then general manager Kelly Krauskopf faced a dilemma with the No. 3 pick. She could select reigning National Player of the Year Jackie Stiles, a player ready to contribute that year. Or she could select Catchings, knowing she'd miss the entire season.
After doing her due diligence heading into the draft and speaking with Summit and first-year coach Nell Fortner, Krauskopf knew she had to select Catchings.
It took all of one meeting for Krauskopf to know she made that right pick.
During their first meeting in Krauskopf's office, Catchings pulled out a pen and paper, taking detailed notes of their entire conversation. It was that attention to detail, that focus and drive that let Krauskopf know that Catchings was going to be a special player in the WNBA.
"You don't know when you draft someone where their career is going to go," Krauskopf said. "That competitiveness — that's what drives me and I know that's what drives her every single day.
"You're always trying to be better, you're always trying to do better. I saw that in her everyday as a player. She never rested on how good the last game was or how good the last season was."
A peripatetic childhood
The Catchings children know they didn't have typical upbringings. As children of a professional basketball player, they grew accustomed to moving from city to city throughout their father's nine-year NBA career.
They even spent a year abroad, as Harvey finished his career playing in Italy. The family moved to Gorizia, Italy, where he played for Segafredo of the Serie A2 League.
During their time overseas, the Catchings developed a friendship with fellow former NBA player Joe "Jellybean" Bryant and his family while Bryant played in Rieti, Italy, for AMG Sebastiani, also in Serie A2.
That relationship allowed Tamika, then 7, to develop a friendship with a young Kobe Bryant.
"We only stayed in Italy for a year; Kobe and his family stayed for six years," Catchings said. "We came back to the states, moved around a lot and by the time he came back and ended up going to high school and getting drafted, I remember calling my mom like, 'Is that Kobe who we were overseas with? That's that Kobe?'
"People ask, 'What was he like as a kid?' Like any other kid. ... You just run, and you play and you're free. Nothing matters. You're in this foreign country, but one of the main reasons you're together is because there's not too many African American families running around in Italy."
Back stateside, the family continued to move around different suburbs in Chicago, before Tamika and her mother moved to suburban Dallas to be closer to her mother's family.
The constant moving never allowed Tamika to build a sense of community. Outside of the four years spent in Knoxville, she was never in one place long enough to truly call it 真人百家家乐官网网站home until she arrived in Indiana.
Coming in with an injury, Catchings felt as if the Indiana Fever took a chance on her. She couldn't make an impact on the court Year 1, so she decided to make an impact through giving back.
At the time, Indianapolis was one of the top cities in the country for childhood obesity. Seeing a need within the community, Catchings' philanthropic efforts began.
She started in 2001 with a five-day basketball camp at Riverside Family Center. Basketball was the hook, but Catchings also wanted to teach kids life skills, positivity, goal setting and teamwork.
The following year, in addition to the basketball camp, Catchings started the Catch on to Fitness Clinic to teach kids the importance of a healthy and active lifestyle, while also providing them a way to give back through a canned food donation to Gleaners Food Bank.
Then Catchings started a mentoring program for girls centered on fitness, youth development and literacy.
After years of providing services and programs to the community, in 2004, Catchings launched her non-profit Catch the Stars Foundation.
"It was all her heart, all her passion and all her just wanting to figure out a way to provide something positive for the kids," Tauja said.
In December, the Catch the Stars basketball camp at Warren Central High School will celebrate its 20th anniversary. The children's fitness clinic is in its 19th year. In addition to the camps, Catch the Stars hosts a Back to School celebration at Central Library. Last year the organization supplied 1,200 backpacks filled with school supplies to students grade K-12.
Catchings also owns Tea's Me Cafe, a north side cafe she frequented for about a decade and purchased in 2017 when she learned the original owners planned to sell the shop.
"When she made the decision to buy a 真人百家家乐官网网站home here and her sister Tauja moved here, I thought this community at the time doesn't know what it has if she decided to stay and really stay invested in the community," Krauskopf said.
"Then she started her foundation and started really meeting young people and impacting young people's lives. ... Little by little she did it very smartly. She started looking at this as a great city. This is a place where I can have an impact. That's rare when you find professional athletes who decide to stay and intentionally make that contribution and impact to their city and their community, and that's really what she's done."
The pinnacle of basketball
As Catchings prepares to enter the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame (originally scheduled for June 13, now scheduled for June 12, 2021) and the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame, Saturday Aug. 29, she's balancing a sense of pride with a feeling of pain.
The pride comes from being in the same room as her dad's former teammates and peers, players like Julius Erving, Sidney Moncrief and Bob Lanier. All-time greats who knew her before she was a dominant force on the court.
The pain comes from knowing coach and mentor Pat Summit and childhood friend Kobe Bryant won't get to witness the ceremony.
Summit died in 2016 at age 64 due to complications of Alzheimer's disease. Bryant and daughter Gianna were among the passengers who died in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California, on Jan 26. He was 41.
Going into the Women's Hall of Fame will be a bittersweet moment without Summit. Catchings said she wants to treat the enshrinement like a celebration with Pat's closest friends.
"There's so many people that have been connected to her that will be there," Catchings said. "All my people will be there. All my Tennessee people will be there. ... So I think it's a celebration. It's bittersweet because she's not there but it's also a celebration. Even though she's not there physically, she's always going to be there."
Just months removed from his death, Catchings' feelings about Bryant are more raw. When thinking about all the work Bryant did after his basketball career for the women's game with his Mamba Academy, and the potential Gianna showed at such a young age, his tragic death was not how the final chapters of their lives were supposed to go.
"He'll never walk through the door," Catchings said. "He'll never give his speech. He'll never be able to put the jacket on. There's a lot he'll never be able to. Even now it doesn't seem real.
"... You just never expect it to be cut short. I was really thinking when the announcement came in December, 'this is how it all ends. This is the perfect story.'"
Back 真人百家家乐官网网站home in Indiana
When the ceremonies are over, Catchings will head back to Indianapolis. The Indiana Fever are a month (tentatively, given the coronavirus) from beginning their season, their first since Catchings took over as general manager.
Those closest to her expect Catchings to tackle her GM duties with the same urgency and passion she applied to her playing career.
The Fever have struggled since she retired, failing to make the postseason each of the past three seasons without her. Armed with a roster filled with young talent and the No. 3 overall pick in the 2020 draft, Catchings is hoping to bring stability back to the franchise.
The stability the franchise felt during 12 straight postseason appearances and a WNBA title in 2012. The stability she's provided for her nephews, so they don't have to live the transient life she did a child. The stability she feels at 真人百家家乐官网网站home, in Indiana.
"Indiana, they embraced us," Catchings said. "They embraced us in every single thing that I've done starting with the foundation and all the programs, and being a part of the Fever and all the support we got there.
"To retirement and all the people that supported that, to the tea shop, everything that I'm involved with. It just seems like I'm just family and I love that."
Follow IndyStar sports producer Akeem Glaspie on Twitter at @THEAkeemGlaspie.