In an article in the Baltimore Sun published on March 31, 1998, just two days after Pat Summitt’s Lady Vols capped off a 39-0 season by stomping then No. 4 Louisiana Tech 93-75 in the NCAA championship game, writer Milton Kent called the 97-98 Lady Vols team the “most athletic team the game has ever seen.” Even to this day, many regard that team of all-stars as one of the greatest basketball teams to ever take the court in either men’s and women’s basketball.
There were two All-Americans on that 97-98 powerhouse team — Chamique Holdsclaw and Tamika Catchings. Winning All-American honors all four years of college helped Catchings move into the WNBA with virtual ease, being taken by the Indiana Fever with the third overall pick in 2001. She would end up missing the entire 2001 season because of an ACL tear, before debuting in 2002.
And now, 14 years later, a player that many consider the WNBA’s version of Kobe Bryant, Catchings is calling it a career after the 2016 season ends for the Fever.
“It’s been a ride, and it’s been fun. But I know now’s the time to move on,” Catchings said. “My goal (before retirement) is to just be the best teammate and the best player I can possibly be.”
To call one of the Lady Vols’ “Three Meeks” (Chamique Holdsclaw, Semeka Randall and Tamika Catchings herself) anything less than one of the most game-changing basketball players of all-time would be a drastic understatement. Coupled with her All-American honors throughout all four years of college at UT, Catchings won SEC Freshman of the Year in 1997, along with the Naismith National Player of the Year trophy and an ESPY for College Player of the Year in 2000. Add a couple of NCAA titles in the mix (97-98 and 99-00), and you’ve got one of the most decorated athletes in history.
And that was just in college.
“I can remember that every practice was physically exhausting,” Catchings said when asked about the practices that she went through in college. “Almost every day, someone would leave bloodied or bruised. During games, we played close and together. During practice, it was almost like we hated each other.”
After tearing her ACL in the 17th game of the Lady Vols’ 2000-2001 season, Catchings entered the WNBA with the Fever and sat out the entire 2001 season after being taken third overall in the draft. In 2002, Catchings fought back to grab the WNBA Rookie of the Year trophy while also finishing runner-up to the WNBA MVP and Defensive Player of the Year.
Throughout her illustrious career, Catchings raked in 10 All-Star honors, five Defensive Player of the Year trophies, one MVP trophy in 2011, and a WNBA title and Finals MVP in 2012.
The Duncanville High School graduate even made news this week as she won yet another award. This time, Catchings became the first woman in history to win the 11th Annual National Civil Rights Museum Sports Legacy Award, one of the most prestigious awards an African-American athlete can receive.
After touring the National Civil Rights Museum, Catchings admitted that she was overcome with emotion at the magnitude of the award and the abuse that her father, NBA star Harvey Catchings, went through.
But what Catchings feels is her greatest accomplishment in all these years of playing is her ability to give back to people off the court.
In an interview with ESPN back on Jan. 17, 2001, Catchings was asked the question: If you could be a cartoon character or super hero, who would you be and why? Catchings thought a moment before saying, “Superman, because he always helps people.”
With her community outreach programs such as Catch The Stars, which helps the youth of the world reach their dreams by staying physically and mentally healthy, constantly growing, the Fever forward has been given the opportunity with Grant Hill to choose 10 men and women basketball players to be a part of the 4th Annual Allstate Women’s Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) and National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) Good Works Team.
This award, given to five members in both Division I men’s and women’s basketball and five members in divisions II, III and the NAIA, recognizes a player’s contributions to the community through volunteering and being involved in community projects.
Two University of Tennessee athletes have received nominations for the award. Armani Moore is one of 154 male athletes to be nominated while Lady Vol Andraya Carter is one of 103 female athletes to receive nomination. The combined 20 members of each team will be determined sometime in February.
Catchings said that she is honored to be a member of this selection committee.
“When I was offered the opportunity to be involved with the Good Works team, I immediately accepted,” Catchings said. “Throughout my life, I’ve wanted to give back. And these individuals have proven that they can do just that. I’m proud of each and every one of them.”
With a plethora of awards on her shelves and a career that one can only dream of soon to be behind her, Tamika Catchings admits that she would love to be a general manager once the 2016 Summer Olympics are over and she hangs up her jersey for the last time.
Whether she’s making a difference off the court or making baskets on the court, Tamika Catchings’ legacy will always be dotted with shades of orange.