If Tamika Catchings’ career with the Indiana Fever was a novel, then Saturday night was the final chapter, as the team retired her No. 24 jersey in front of a raucous crowd at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
It was a night of raw emotion for not only Catchings but the crowd, coaches, and players as well.
“You’re gonna feel Tamika’s presence even though she’s not playing,” Fever head coach Pokey Chatman said before the game. “So many people are coming here to pay tribute to her, and it has to excite you. If not, you don’t have a pulse.”
Chatman was spot on. Not only could you feel something special in the air, but you could see it. Catchings’ aura was tangible throughout the building, as fans young and old sported Catchings T-shirts and jerseys. Even the team paid tribute to the Fever legend by warming up in special Catchings-themed shooting shirts.
The jersey retirement ceremony took place at halftime. Chatman brought her team out of the locker room early, and Catchings was joined on the court by Pacers Sports & Entertainment executives, her husband and family.
The ceremony began with a three-minute video highlighting Catchings’ one-of-a-kind playing career (watch the full video). After, broadcaster Chris Denari got the proceedings underway.
“Tonight it is time to honor a legend,” Denari said. “Our legend.”
Following Denari, Pacers Sports & Entertainment President Rick Fuson took the mic and expressed his gratitude to Catchings on behalf of the entire organization.
“We thank you, Tamika,” Fuson said. “We thank you for playing here. We thank you for making your whole pro career here, unlike so many others.
“You’re a star. You’re a star of our game. You’re a star of our city, our state, our country. Tamika, you are forever.”
It was then time for Fever President Kelly Krauskopf, the woman who drafted Catchings, to say a few words.
“The symbolism of retiring your jersey goes far beyond the fact that no player on an Indiana Fever team will ever wear No. 24 again,” Krauskopf said. “It’s our way of making sure that your place in this team’s history will always be represented because of the incredible impact you’ve had on this organization.”
Finally, the woman of the hour was given the stage, and she delivered an emotional, tear-filled speech to the fans that had supported her in so many ways for so many years.
“I never would have dreamt of this,” Catchings said of the ceremony. “I want to thank Kelly and Rick and Jim and the Simons and everybody else in Pacers Sports & Entertainment for taking a chance on me and for believing in me, even when sometimes I didn’t believe in myself.”
“To the fans, thank you guys because you’re the reason I wanted to stay. Every day I got up, and every day that I would drive to Bankers Life, I would be so excited about the opportunity to come out here and do what we do on the court.”
It was then time to honor Catchings for the final and most significant time. With the help of her husband, mother, and father, Catchings raised the banner symbolizing the retirement of her jersey into the rafters of Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
The crowd, which had been standing for the entirety of the ceremony, went into a frenzy in order to appreciate the player it loves so much.
After the banner was raised, current Fever players rushed the court and embraced Catchings with smiles and tears. The legendary player received one last deafening ovation as she walked off the court.
Soon after, Catchings spoke to the media about the experience and was still emotional about what had just transpired.
“It’s an honor,” Catchings said. “It is. It’s an honor because nobody else will wear that number forever.
“It’s one thing when you put on a jersey and you wear it one year and then you go somewhere else and someone else has that same number on, but to know that no matter what year you come, whether it’s next year or 15, 50, or 100 years down the road, nobody will ever wear that number. And it’s an honor for them to even put me on that level.”
Catchings then reflected on what she was thinking as she saw her banner head into the air.
“It’s just a blur,” she said. “And my dad was pulling so fast, I was just trying to keep up. In that moment, literally every tug, it’s like every year. 2001 getting drafted all the way to 2017.”
“It’s like a flash, but seeing my teammates over there and even the ones that I didn’t play with, I feel like I played with them. So just really replaying the years. It’s a flash.”
Throughout the night, those familiar with Catchings spoke about not only what she means to Indiana and the Fever but to basketball itself.
“She’s one of the greatest of all-time,” Chatman said. She made a difference on both sides of the basketball. There’s no other player, person like her.”
“The impact [on basketball] is almost indescribable,” WNBA President Lisa Borders said. “When you look at her body of work, it is a very well-rounded body of work. She is extraordinary.”
“Most importantly, she internally set an example for all other players who want to play this game and who play the game across the league. There’s no one the fans I think respect more than Tamika.”
Current Fever point guard and longtime teammate Briann January was thrilled for her friend and mentor.
“It’s like the culmination of of everything,” January said. “She’s just put in so much to get all the accomplishments she has, and to finally be recognized and have something up there that will never go away, you know she deserves it if anybody does.”
“It was a great closing to her career, and I’m glad this happened, and I’m glad I was able to be there.”
As the night wore on, the crowd dissipated. Players, coaches, and even Catchings herself moved on from the moment, but one thing was and will always be present going forward. Catchings’ banner will forever hang in Bankers Life Fieldhouse, not only representing what happened on this night but the career of a legend as well.