Former WNBA Star Talks Life After Basketball and Giving Back
Writer / Josh Brown
Photographer / Brian Brosmer
Tamika Catchings will go down as one of the greatest WNBA players ever, and no one could argue otherwise. Her career accolades speak volumes: 10-time All-Star, 5-time Defensive Player of the Year, 12-time All-WNBA selection, 2002 Rookie of the Year, 2011 MVP, and 2012 Finals MVP.
Take a breath, there’s more.
The former Indiana Fever star forward also sits atop or near the top of the all-time rankings in several WNBA categories: second in points, first in rebounds, first in steals and sixth in assists.
Catchings officially retired in September, 2016, but that doesn’t mean she hasn’t been busy. Recently, the former WNBA champion has traded her basketball shoes for a headset.
“Never in my wildest dreams did I see myself on TV commentating,” Catchings said. “I think I was a little self-conscious. After talking with my agent and the contact with ESPN, they approached it as, ‘you don’t know what you don’t like if you never try it.’ Sometimes in order to succeed you have to be a little uncomfortable and do stuff you never thought you would do.”
On January 8, Catchings was on a basketball court, but she wasn’t suiting up to play. Instead, she was on the sidelines calling her first game — Texas A&M vs. Kentucky.
“I really enjoyed it,” Catchings said. “I feel like the more and more I practice, the better I will get. It is a really fun opportunity.
“It is much harder than I thought it would be,” she added. “Being on the backend now and seeing all that really goes into it, you have a full grasp of what it takes. It is a lot like being on a team.”
If you talk to Catchings for more than five minutes you soon realize that her greatest passion is giving back to the community and serving others. The 37-year old has been just as much of a leader off the court throughout her storied career.
She created the Catch the Stars Foundation in 2004 to help provide goal-setting programs for disadvantaged youth.
The idea sprouted back in 2001 when Catchings arrived for her first season with the Fever but was sidelined for the year while recovering from an ACL tear. She wanted to get involved with the Indianapolis community, so she set up an event at a local park with Indy youth. From there, it grew into kids’ basketball camps and other events before the foundation was officially created.
It is a passion that she says is still very much a focal point since retiring.
“It kept me inspired and to this day keeps me inspired and motivated knowing that I can make a difference and that the programs we offer are truly needed and necessary,” Catchings said. “I end up getting more out of it by giving back and seeing the smiles on kids’ faces and sharing love. I just want to provide them an opportunity where they can believe in themselves and know there are people out there who want to see them be successful. Thinking back to what people have done for me, I feel it is my role to be that for other kids.”
Last July, New York Knicks star forward Carmelo Anthony asked Catchings, along with other members of the men’s and women’s USA basketball teams, to participate in a town hall in Los Angeles. The event brought 80 teens, as well as athletes, community leaders and members of the LAPD together for a social discussion.
The meeting inspired Catchings to bring something similar to Indiana. Last November, her Catch the Stars Foundation hosted the first “Conversation With Our Future” in Indianapolis, bringing together more than 60 students representing 30 schools across Indy and more than 80 volunteers, including Colts, Fever, and Pacers players, and IMPD officers.
“We had some great discussions about racial and social issues,” Catchings said. “We are trying to figure out a way to bridge the gap between the community and the IMPD and strengthen those relationships. It is also an opportunity for kids to meet these cops who don’t come dressed in uniform and realize they are just normal people.”
Catchings will be bringing the event back to Indy again this November while continuing to host the many camps and other events put on by the Catch the Stars Foundation throughout the year.
The desire to make a lasting impact beyond basketball can be traced back to her days at the University of Tennessee, playing under the late Pat Summitt. The legendary women’s basketball coach inspired and encouraged her players to be great off the court.
“Anybody that knew her, knows she was such a genuine person,” Catchings said. “When I look at my legacy and where I am at now in life, a lot of it came from being around positive role models such as her. Pat talked about being a great person and giving back to society, and that is who she was.”
For now, Catchings will stay busy with the new SEC Network gig and her Catch the Stars Foundation. As for what lies ahead in the future she’s not sure, but she isn’t ruling out any possibilities.
How does Coach Catchings sound?
“I used to think, ‘No way,’” she said. “But now, I don’t know. Never say never. I’m at a stage right now where I wouldn’t want to coach. But maybe down the road with staying around the game and staying engaged, it might be something that I end up wanting to do one day.”