Memories of an MVP
Tamika Catchings wins her first WNBA MVP award.
by Josh Flynn
My memories of Tamika Catchings are hazy.
It’s odd, because I can remember the actions of childhood basketball heroes with such clarity. Mark Price with a pull-up three. Charles Barkley grabbing a rebound. My beloved Indiana Hoosiers—Calbert Cheaney slicing inside for a dunk off a Damon Bailey assist.
But I’ve been watching Tamika Catchings play basketball for 10 years now. I’ve sat courtside and ten rows from the top of Conseco Fieldhouse. I’ve watched her in crisp hi-def and pixilated streaming video. I’ve sat at my computer doing homework listening to play-by-play over the internet and pressed my ear up against a radio trying to decipher the static filled Chris Denari game commentary.
And still, I can’t recall one defining Tamika Catchings moment. Maybe it’s a sign of getting old—the memory is going. Maybe its just the kind of player Catchings is—the ultimate teammate making everyone else better, staying within the confines of team strategy, setting aside flashy play in exchange for victories.
Maybe Tamika Catchings WNBA career is just one big blur of greatness.
Here is what I do remember about Tamika Catchings:
It’s 2005. The NCAA women’s basketball Final Four in Indianapolis. I’m taking my very first journalism class. My final project is a literary journalism piece about the event. I spend several days just walking around Indy and taking in the atmosphere. On the Sunday afternoon before the semifinals, I see Catchings and Kara Lawson leaving the convention center. I drop my guise as a journalist and become a fan, asking them for their autographs. Kara Lawson drops her eyes to my t-shirt: UConn. Diana Taurasi’s number 3. “Catch,” Lawson says. “You see his shirt.”
“Nope, no autographs for UConn fans,” Catchings says, her face aglow with a giant teasing smile.
Four years later and I’m actually a journalist. I’m the first to arrive to the Indiana Fever’s 2009 media day. I sit alone, so nervous. Catchings arrives and looks at me and says, “Wow, you’re here early.” She disappears, off changing into her uniform. When she returns, my table now filled with waiting journalists, she sits down and looks at me again, saying, “You get the first question since you were here first.”
It’s these memories—and lack of memories—that define Tamika Catchings for me. On the court it’s all about the Indiana Fever. Not one Catchings play is any more important than the hard work of Katie Douglas, Tammy Sutton-Brown, all the way back to Stephanie White and Olympia Scott. It’s always been the Indiana Fever. And at times maybe that has held the team back. Maybe it needed to be a bit more Tamika Catchings and the Indiana Fever. But no, that’s not Catchings’ way. The Fever win as a team or lose as a team.
Off the court it’s about Indianapolis. Catchings is in the community with her Catch the Stars Foundation, inspiring and educating the city’s youth. She’s out in the community greeting fans with her teammates. Just like on the court, she’s out in Indianapolis working hard. Catchings isn’t one to let a financial donation stand in for real engagement. For 10 years Indianapolis has received the same attention and care from Catchings as her teammates have. And she does so always with that smile.
I have to admit I didn’t take to Catchings at first. I wanted the Fever to draft Svetlana Abrosimova, my basketball crush. As a diehard UConn fan I couldn’t root for a Tennessee Volunteer. My WNBA loyalties were given to the Minnesota Lynx, who took Abrosimova in the 2001 Draft. But then I saw Catchings’ hard work. And I thought, “Ok, maybe I can like a Lady Vol.” Then I took my little cousin to a WNBA Read to Achieve event and met Catchings for the first time, watched her interact with the kids, saw that warm smile up close, and I thought, “Ok, maybe I can love a Lady Vol.”
I can’t imagine not being a Tamika Catchings fan. Despite her on-court career feeling like a blur, she (and so many other WNBA athletes) hold the same aura of greatness as the NBA players I watched in my youth. I feel like a kid again each time I stand in line with my cousin anxiously waiting for Conseco Fieldhouse to open so we can watch the Indiana Fever.
And now, 10 years later, Tamika Catchings finally has her MVP award. I can’t help thinking “Wow! I can’t believe she won” and “What took so long?” But if I can’t pinpoint a key Catchings moment, maybe others can’t either. Maybe Catchings just got overshadowed all these years by Taurasi’s fiery passion, Lauren Jackson’s domination, Lisa Leslie’s and Sheryl Swoopes’ legacy.
Whatever the reason, Catchings being named the WNBA MVP is well deserved. I wish I could give you more evidence why, but I’d have to peel away so many layers of team before I could.