WNBA's Catchings enjoying her farewell tour
Tamika Catchings gets it. She always has.
It's why the WNBA would prefer that her final game in the league never gets here, or in the very least comes up as slowly as possible.
Catchings, who won a state championship at Stevenson High School in the mid-1990s, led Tennessee to a national championship and is now a forward with the Indiana Fever, will be retiring at the end of this summer after 16 seasons in the WNBA.
She is not only one of the greatest players in league history, having won a league title, the MVP award and multiple WNBA defensive player of the year awards, she's also one of the WNBA's best ambassadors. Ever.
Unlike many superstar athletes, or pro athletes in general, Catchings is great with the media -- accommodating, available, cooperative. She understands the importance of using herself as a vessel to publicize her team and the league.
Even more important, Catchings is wonderful with the fans. She chats with fans after games, signs autograph after umpteenth autograph, and sets up events for fans, such as meet-and-greets, question-and-answer sessions, and basketball clinics.
"If people don't come to the games, if you don't have fans supporting you, then this league eventually dies down," Catchings said. "It's not to say that you have to go all out of your way all the time, but for me, it's more of an appreciation. I sincerely love what I do, playing (basketball). And then after the games, I really enjoy meeting people. You never know who is going to be there for the first time ever at a WNBA game, but I always hope that when they leave, I've left a lasting imprint on them."
To commemorate her last season in the league, Catchings is going all out for the fans once again. She created a "Legacy Tour" that conducts special events in each WNBA city around her final game of the regular season in that city. Her final regular season game against the Sky in Chicago is on Wednesday (11:30 a.m., Allstate Arena).
As part of the "Legacy Tour," Catchings will donate $2,000 to a local charitable foundation. There will also be a postgame meet-and-greet, as well as the auction of various memorabilia, including special edition Nike shoes that were designed by fans of Catchings and will be specific in some way to Chicago.
"It's been cool," Catchings said of the "Legacy Tour." "I remember when (former Indiana Fever head coach) Lin (Dunn) announced her retirement (two years ago), we'd go to all these cities and people would honor her and give her things before games, and I thought that was nice, but that I didn't really need that, nor did I want it.
"I really wanted something different. We started thinking, what could we do? And to me, the most important thing is the community and giving back. I wanted something in each city that allowed the fans to get to know more about me, face-to-face, to really have the opportunity to be with me one-on-one."
Catchings, 37, is leaving on a high.
She is still one of the best players in the league, currently averaging 12.9 points, 4.6 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game. She will be representing the United States in the Olympics this summer, her fourth Olympic Games, and she is a happy newlywed, married in February to Parnell Smith, a 6-foot-6 former basketball player and Indianapolis native who won two state championships himself in high school.
What a year.
"I know," Catchings said excitedly. "Now it's like 'What's next?' I don't know!"
Catchings and her husband haven't even been on a honeymoon yet. She says that will likely be the first thing she does when basketball is officially over. A beach. Anywhere.
Then, she'll likely dive headfirst into her foundation, Catch the Stars, arguably one of the most successful and impactful charitable organizations headed up by a professional athlete in the country. Catchings' foundation, now in its tenth year, aims to help kids lead healthy and active lives through sports while also placing an emphasis on school and study habits.
"I'm super passionate about my foundation," Catchings said. "We're already planning to come back (to each WNBA city) in 2017 to do things."
In the meantime, Catchings plans to simply enjoy the moment, each time she suits up for the Fever, each time she visits a WNBA city for the last time.
"I'm just enjoying the process, enjoying the journey, enjoying the time with my teammates," Catchings said. "It's been me focusing on taking nothing for granted every single day. It's been cool."
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