Measuring the influence of Tamika Catchings’ professional basketball career would be easy if statistics were the only gauge.
Fortunately for the Indiana Fever and the city she’s proudly called home since 2001, they aren’t.
Catchings, a 10-time WNBA All-Star whose charitable works off the hardwood are as impressive as any triple-double she might record on it, starts her 16th and final WNBA season tonight at home against the Dallas Wings.
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It’s the beginning of the end for the 6-foot-2 forward, who two years ago made it clear this would be her final WNBA go-round before getting on with the rest of her life.
Wed to Indianapolis native Parnell Smith on Feb. 7, Catchings, who turns 37 in July, looks forward to being able to spend more time focusing on her Catch the Stars Foundation and starting a family.
This promises to be a busy summer for Catchings.
She will represent her country for a fourth time as a member of the United States women’s basketball team at the Summer Olympics scheduled for Aug. 5 to 21 in Rio de Janeiro.
By October she hopes to be leading the Fever to its second WNBA title in six years.
The second-leading scorer in league history with 6,947 points, Catchings, should she remain healthy, is poised to pass former Houston/Los Angeles/Seattle forward Tina Thompson (7,448) for the top spot.
Already first all-time in steals with 1,012, Catchings has played in 10 All-Star Games, is a five-time WNBA Defensive Player of the Year and was the league’s Most Valuable Player in 2011.
Catchings recently sat down with the Daily Journal for a Q&A:
Q: Two years ago you made it clear this would be your final WNBA season. Any second thoughts?
TC: Nope. No second thoughts. I think last year was kind of a year to really prepare for this year. Now that we’re going into the final season, everybody’s like, ‘Are you sure? You look good.’ And I’m like, ‘I feel great.’ But I know just from a mental state that I’m prepared for this to be my last season.
Q: Very few professional athletes play their entire career for one team. What has that meant to you?
TC: I feel blessed to be able to start my career here and to still be here. What comes with that is being able to build yourself in the community, too, with the Catch the Stars Foundation. Of course, on the court the support system we’ve been able to create has been the thing that overall … it’s cool to know that I came here as a baby and now I’ve grown up.
Q: You are so widespread when it comes to your ability to give back. Where does that quality come from?
A: It was definitely planted with my parents. My dad (Harvey Catchings) played in the pros, so I remember doing a lot of stuff with him. When he retired he actually worked for Little City Foundation, and even with that there’s a lot of giving. As I got older, (former University of Tennessee women’s basketball coach) Pat (Summitt) really stressed the importance of giving back to our community, family and all of that. Just all the influences and all the places I’ve been added up to this.
Q: You also are on record as saying you would never coach the Fever or any other team. Why?
TC: I just expect a lot, and it’s different when you’re in control. To some extent I can say what I need to say (as a player). Then I can get on the court and if I want everyone to pick up the tempo I can pick mine up and everyone kind of follows.
From a coach you have to be able to basically step back and trust that your players will have the same personality that you have. I have that with (Fever head coach and former teammate) Steph (White). She knows that we basically have a lot of the character traits as far as what we demand from ourselves and what we demand on the court.
Q: What are your fondest memories of your first 15 years with the Fever?
TC: Winning a championship, of course. And the fans. They’ve just been absolutely amazing, the core group we had which has grown over the years. Just the amount of people that come back year after year after year. The excitement they have leads to more fans who want to come out and support us.
Q: Now that you’re married, is starting a family among your priorities after this season?
TC: Definitely. I want to have my own (child) and I want to adopt two. That’s something I’ve been very passionate about. Just being able to be a blessing for another child and to see that child come into your family and grow up as one of yours.
Q: You’ve got one WNBA game to do over again. Which one is it?
TC: (Laughing) Last year’s Game 5 (of the WNBA Finals vs. Minnesota, a 69-52 loss). Either that or Game 4 in 2009 (against Phoenix, a 90-77 loss at home). Whichever you want to pick. I feel we just ran out of gas last year.
Q: Being the daughter of a former NBA player, how much pressure did that put on you to be good at basketball while growing up?
TC: It never put pressure on me to be a basketball player. But when I made the decision that I wanted to be a basketball player, my parents were more, ‘If this is something that you’re committed to and that you want to do, then I expect you to go 100 percent in every single thing that you do.’
It was more a father wanting more for his daughter and knowing the capability of what your daughter can bring to the table.
Q: Every WNBA city is going to want to honor you. Are you OK with that?
TC: We’re going to do the Legacy Tour this year. One thing I’ve asked in lieu of gifts is we’re holding a postgame party in each city, and we’re going to have all the proceeds go back to the foundation.
That’s the opportunity to do what I really want to do, which is help others.
THE CATCHINGS FILE
Name: Tamika Catchings
Born: Stratford, New Jersey
Family: Husband, Parnell Smith
High school: Duncanville (Texas) (1997)
College: University of Tennessee (2001)
Draft status: Taken by Indiana Fever with No. 3 pick in 2001 WNBA Draft