WNBA crown completes Catchings’ glittering resume

We all just want to fit in, even world-class athletes.

Tamika Catchings was feeling a bit left out during a special ceremony at the WNBA All-Star Game in 2011. It was the league’s 15th season and the top 15 players of all-time were being honored.

Catchings, the former Stevenson High School star who is now a forward with the Indiana Fever and has been one of the highest-profile players in the WNBA for the last 12 years, was, of course, one of the elite 15. She listened closely as the other players in the group were being announced.

“It was so-and-so won this WNBA championship and so-and-so won that WNBA championship,” Catchings said. “Then it was like, ‘Tamika Catchings has won 2 Olympic gold medals.’ I was like ‘Man, I’ve just got to get one championship so that I can at least fit in with everyone else.’”

Consider Catchings now one of the crowd.

A sentimental favorite with fans, and even with her fellow colleagues in the league, the 33-year-old Catchings got her long and much overdue moment in the sun Sunday when she won the very first WNBA championship of her otherwise illustrious career. By defeating the defending champion Minnesota Lynx 87-78 in Game 4 of the WNBA Finals, the Indiana Fever also got its first championship in franchise history.

Catchings had a game-high 25 points, 8 assists and 4 rebounds and was promptly named the most valuable player of the Finals. She carried the load as the Fever played the entire series without their second-leading scorer, injured guard Katie Douglas.

“I remember stepping on the (awards) stage and I just started crying, almost hyperventilating crying,” Catchings said. “I mean, it’s been 12 years. There have been ups and downs and trials and tribulations, and I just felt so excited to have this monkey off my back. This has been an amazing journey.

“Just standing there and listening to the loud cheers as we held that trophy up is something I’ll never forget. People were crying, and we were so happy. After all those years, it was like, ‘Finally, we’re here.’”

And Catchings isn’t going anywhere either. At least not any time soon.

Sure, her career is now complete. There’s absolutely nothing more she has to prove. She was an NCAA champion at Tennessee and she’s won multiple Olympic gold medals as well as six professional championships overseas. She holds a ton of WNBA statistical records and was named the WNBA MVP for the first time last summer.

Now, Catchings has the elusive WNBA title that she says she’s dreamed of since the league first started in 1997 — back when she was in high school.

But, as Catchings is quickly beginning to realize, winning one WNBA championship is a lot like trying to eat just one chip.

“Not to be greedy, but I’d like to win another,” Catchings chuckled. “I’m satisfied, but I want to win again. With the team we have, and now that we know what it takes, I know we can do more. I know I can do more.”

Catchings is all about pushing the limits. She has battled various injuries over her career, some very serious such as a ruptured Achilles tendon. But she has become one of the best in the business at staying fit and maintaining healthy lifestyle habits that will help extend her career.

In fact, she is such a stickler for her postgame training regimens that she cut short her celebrations with her teammates on the night the Fever clinched.

“We were having a party on our practice court and I had to go sit in the cold tub,” Catchings laughed. “I knew if I didn’t do it then, I would pay for it the next day. I was sore. My body was really hurting. For me, it’s all about being aware of my body like that and paying attention to it.

“As long as my body stays healthy, I want to keep playing. I still love it.”

Catchings is also in love with the idea of retirement, although it certainly doesn’t seem imminent. She is already packing her bags for her next assignment. On Nov. 6, Catchings will leave Indianapolis for another off-season of playing overseas, this time in China.

“I know, it’s crazy,” said Catchings, who is also planning to be ready for her 13th WNBA season in May.

But eventually, Catchings will slow down, and she welcomes that, perhaps because she doesn’t plan on leaving basketball altogether. She would like to be general manager of a WNBA team.

“I also want to get married and have a family and have kids, of course,” Catchings said. “It’s exciting to think about retirement. But I’m not ready yet. I’m not done yet.”

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