The Tamika Catchings Story [Part 1]

“Literally, her name should be ‘Relentless Catchings’ because the word is her. Period.” — Former Fever head coach Nell Fortner

Indiana Fever forward Tamika Catchings is a living legend. She has cemented herself atop nearly every WNBA statistical category and is recognized as one of the best female athletes to ever play the game of basketball but this wasn’t always the case. 

The Tamika Catchings Story [Part 1]: In this section we examine Catchings’ early years with the Indiana Fever and the building blocks that made her the player she is today. Join us as we retrace Tamika Catchings’ legendary career and the defining moments from each of her 16 seasons with the Indiana Fever. Please note: This is Part 1 of the Tamika Catchings Story. Click here to read Part 2. Part 3 will be published following the conclusion of her final season.

A Little Girl with a Big Dream —

Quick Read Menu —

Before the WNBA: History in the Making —


No, those aren’t the latest winning lottery numbers or a combination to a lock. They’re a piece of basketball history, part of a story that few people have heard.

Most basketball fans have seen a player score a double-double. Many have even seen a triple-double. But a quintuple-double? Double digits in five categories? Yeah, right.

But in 1997 in Duncanville, Texas, it happened.

“What can I say? I was everywhere, and the passion that I play with was seen in every play—offensively and defensively,” Tamika Catchings describes in her autobiography, Catch a Star.

Catchings was just a senior in high school at the time, but made history that day with an unbelievable stat line—25 points, 18 rebounds, 11 assists, 10 steals, and 10 blocks. Tamika had accomplished something that no records showed any basketball player had ever done before, and she did it during a road game.

“I remember thinking that she was having an exceptional game,” former Duncanville High School basketball coach Sara Hackerott said about that day. “But at the same time, with Tamika, even when she’s having an exceptional game, I think there’s a quality about her play that she makes it look easy. Then you look down at the stat sheet, and you realize ‘oh my goodness, she’s got double digits in each one of these categories’.”

“There were things she was doing that honestly, I had never seen before.”

Catchings’ quintuple-double is the first on record at any level of basketball and has only officially been repeated once—by another high school player, Aimee Oertner. No other WNBA players, or NBA players for that matter, have ever conquered such a feat. Wanda Catchings, Tamika’s mother, remembers being at that game and still has people who witnessed it approach her in awe. But Tamika’s ability to awe was nothing new to those who knew her.

“It could happen at any moment. There were times when out of the blue Tamika would just be something on the court, and you’d never seen a player in high school—I had never seen a player in high school do that particular thing before—and I would look at my assistant and go ‘did you just see what I saw?’” Hackerott said with a chuckle. Even years later, she still recalls some of these moments of pure Tamika Catchings magic.

“There were times in practice when you wish you had instant replay, because you really wanted to see that again… at that level there were things she was doing that honestly, I had never seen before,” she said.

But despite the rarity and awe, Sara Hackerott, Wanda Catchings, and dozens of others make one thing clear about Tamika—she has never really cared much about the spotlight.

“It’s never been about individual statistics for Tamika. It’s about becoming the best player she can be and how her team was performing,” Hackerott said.

Her quintuple-double performance was no different. In Texas high school basketball, in order to make the playoffs, you must first place as one of the top teams in district play, and Duncanville was headed to the second round of district play. To Tamika, her quintuple-double game was more about simply winning the game and advancing. Her immediate focus after her stellar performance in that game? Getting herself and the team ready for the next game. They would eventually go on to have an undefeated 40-0 season and win the state championship.

1997 Duncanville High School Girls' Basketball State Championship Trophy
Tamika Catchings led Duncanville High School to a 40-0 record and state championship in 1997.

Tamika’s devotion to her team is still true today, as she often points to the success of her teammates and the team as a whole, rather than her individual accomplishments. Hackerott and Wanda Catchings recall that even as a young high school player, that’s just how Tamika was. She was aware of her statistics because she wanted to continue to progress and advance her career, but she never focused on them.

“She wasn’t always just trying to overpower everybody. She was trying to play within the fluidity of the game so you didn’t always get to see her just explode with this talent,” Hackerott said. “It is what the team needs her to do. It is what she needs to do in that moment. Great players just do that.”

On the day of her quintuple-double, Catchings wasn’t aiming for an amazing stat line or trying to accomplish something no player had ever done before. She was just trying to win the game for her team. But for anyone who witnessed it, they were lucky enough to observe history, to see that explosion of talent, to get a little taste of that Tamika Catchings magic. Return to Menu »»

2002: Making a Name for Herself —

After spending her entire first season in the WNBA rehabbing a torn ACL, Tamika Catchings came out in 2002 ready to get back on the court and show the league who she was.

And she did just that.

“There’s no question that as her rookie year was going on, she was making a name for herself already,” said former Indiana Fever coach Nell Fortner about Catchings.

Fortner officially began coaching the Fever in 2000, but because she was coaching the Olympic team that year, it wasn’t until 2001 that she began actually coaching Indiana from the sidelines. Even though Catchings did not play that season, Fortner knew about her relentlessness, her determination, and her talent, from watching her play under Pat Summit at Tennessee, so Fortner wasn’t surprised when Catchings returned to the court in 2002 as if she hadn’t skipped a beat.

“Nothing she does surprises me,” said her sister, Tauja Catchings. “I think she’s somebody that works harder than anybody and someone who is extremely determined and has always been that way.”

Tamika’s 2002 season was nothing short of amazing. Catchings led all rookies in scoring (18.6 points per game), rebounding (8.6 rebounds per game), three-pointers made (76), blocked shots (1.34 blocks per game), and minutes played (36.4 minutes per game). She became the first WNBA player to record 60 three-pointers and 80 steals in a single season and led the entire league in steals that season with 2.94 per game. She led the Indiana Fever to the playoffs for the first time in franchise history and was among league leaders in nearly every statistical category.

Tamika Catchings
Tamika Catchings took the WNBA by storm in her rookie season in 2002.

“I was so nervous about my rookie year, and if I was healthy enough to be successful again, but really once the ball went up that first game, I was ready. I was ready to take on the WNBA, ready to be a part of this organization, excited about my career,” Catchings said.

Her statistics kept her at the top of the Rookie of the Year race for the entirety of the season, so when she won the award with 48 of the 60 possible votes, few people were surprised.

“I wasn’t surprised, I would’ve been livid had she not won it,” Fortner said.

Tamika’s family had a similar reaction.

“Nothing she does surprises me,” said her sister, Tauja Catchings. “I think she’s somebody that works harder than anybody and someone who is extremely determined and has always been that way.”

Tamika was just being Tamika. But while her work ethic hadn’t changed in that season, the attention she started getting did.

“Being Rookie of the Year and the Fever getting into the playoffs for the first time generated a lot of excitement, and I could feel the cameras on me,” Tamika said in her autobiography.

“I think that year she definitely made everybody take notice of, ‘Hey, I’m Tamika Catchings and I’m going to be around for a long time’.”

Tamika Catchings
Tamika Catchings won the WNBA Rookie of the Year Award in 2002 after averaging 18.6 points, 8.6 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 2.9 steals and 1.3 blocks per game.

Tamika Catchings and the Indiana Fever had burst into the spotlight.

“She was putting her stamp on what the future was going to be like for her presence in the league. There’s no doubt about that. I think that year she definitely made everybody take notice of, ‘Hey, I’m Tamika Catchings and I’m going to be around for a long time’,” Fortner said.

Despite the added attention, Tamika wasn’t looking for personal praise or accolades. That’s just not who Tamika Catchings is.

“The honors aren’t what Tamika plays for, you know. I can’t remember her reaction when she won Rookie of the Year, but I wouldn’t be surprised if she just went, ‘Oh, okay, when are we practicing? When’s the next game? Who am I guarding?’. It’s just not about the awards for her,” said Fortner.

Despite Tamika’s modesty about winning Rookie of the Year in 2002, those around her knew how special it was. They also knew something else, this was only the start for Catchings and one of many awards that would belong to No. 24 throughout her career.

Tamika Catchings had arrived in the WNBA, and it wouldn’t be long before everyone knew her name. Return to Menu »»

2003: Home Sweet Indiana —

Tamika’s first two seasons in the WNBA were quite the whirlwind. When she was announced as the third pick in the WNBA draft in 2001, she was filled with a mix of emotions—excitement, relief, nervousness. She had just two weeks to pack up and move to Indianapolis, a city she knew little about, and begin her transition into the WNBA.

The adjustment from college to the pros can be a tough transition for players to make, and her transition was no exception. It wasn’t until her third season in the WNBA in 2003 that the dust had truly settled for Catchings.

“It was tough. In college, everything is scheduled for you so you already know what you’re going to be doing next week,” said Tamika. She remembers her first road trip in the WNBA and being told after shoot around that morning that the bus would leave at 5 that evening.

“I just asked myself, what am I supposed to do until 5 o’clock?” she said.

She learned quickly that figuring out her new routine—one that didn’t include homework or classes—would be key. She wanted to make the most of the new time on her hands, and in her first WNBA season, she had even more time than most because she was sidelined with an injury. For Tamika, making the best of her time meant making the best of herself. It started with a physical transformation, one that began with working to get stronger.

“That first season I think really kind of shaped the whole trajectory of her career. One of the blessings of her being injured was that she was able to get stronger,” said Tauja. “I think a lot of people maybe had doubts with her injury, but that season Tamika was just showing people that yes, her knee was injured, but she’s going to come back that much stronger.”

Being on the bench for her first WNBA season seemed like a burden to Tamika, until she realized that it could really be an opportunity in disguise.

“I felt like I got to kind of have a front row seat to see what the WNBA was all about. How fast it was, how much stronger the players were, so from that aspect being able to be a part of that and kind of get adjusted was something I would take with me into the following year,” said Catchings. She was able to catch up with the speed and adjustments of the pro game from afar, easing the transition into the new style of play.

“I think anytime a kid is injured on any level on any team, when they have the opportunity to sit on the bench and watch and listen, if they really use that time to learn, I think it benefits many players. Tamika was smart enough to know that just because I’m not playing, I still need to be a voice in the locker room, I still need to listen and learn, and she did,” said Fortner.

But even with the added adjustment time in her first season, the transition would still be tough for Tamika. A new lifestyle. A new style of play. A new city.

Luckily for Tamika, she wouldn’t have to do it alone.

Tauja Catchings has played many roles in her sister’s life. She’s been an extra set of ears for Tamika when she couldn’t hear and a shoulder to lean on when she was bullied. They’ve shared the court too, as teammates and opponents. Now, as Tamika started a new chapter of her life in Indianapolis, Tauja would take on a new role: Tamika’s roommate.

Tauja Catchings & Tamika Catchings
Tamika Catchings played against her sister, Tauja, in college. Tauja went on to become Tamika’s roommate in Indianapolis.

After years of being separated by divorce and college careers at different schools, Tauja and Tamika were finally reunited. Tauja, who had been playing professional basketball overseas, decided she would move to Indianapolis with Tamika, something Tamika says made all the difference in her adjustment to the WNBA lifestyle.

“It was awesome,” Tamika said. “It really was, just kind of like her and I taking on the world.”

Today, Tamika is well-adjusted to life in the WNBA, but still visits her sister any chance she gets. It’s not a far drive after all, as both of them have remained in Indianapolis since their move in 2001.

“It’s just the perfect fit for me and for Tamika,” Tauja said with a smile, “Indiana is just, it’s just home.”

And, boy, is Indiana glad that they stayed. Return to Menu »»

2004: Welcome to Athens! —

As the 2016 Rio Olympics are in full swing, Tamika Catchings is well on her way to a fourth-straight gold medal. But back in 2004, her Olympic journey was just getting started.

Her road to the 2004 Olympics actually began long before those games. Catchings had been involved with USA basketball since 1996, when she was still in high school, and had played on four junior teams before joining the USA Basketball Women’s National Team in 2002. While all of these experiences were special to Catchings, the Olympics was ‘the big one’. In 2004, she was headed to Athens, Greece to live out that dream.

“I don’t know that she slept the whole time she was there just because she was that excited,” Tamika’s sister remembers. Tauja and their mother Wanda joined Tamika on her trip to Athens, witnessing first-hand the awe and excitement that Tamika was experiencing.

“I think the whole experience was just totally surreal for her,” said Tauja.

Tamika was certainly in awe of everything surrounding the Olympics, but she was ultimately there to do one thing: play basketball. And for the first time in her life, Tamika would play a new role on her team of veteran stars.

“While I would remember this Olympics as my first, I would also remember it for my first true individual challenge as a player and a huge lesson in leadership,” Tamika said in her autobiography.

For the first time in her basketball career, Tamika was on the same team as a handful of WNBA veterans who were considered the best and most-respected players in the league, and she would be challenged in ways she hadn’t been before.

2004 USA Basketball Women's National Team
Tamika Catchings won her first Olympic gold medal in 2004. It would be the beginning of an illustrious international career.

“She got a lot of discipline and criticism, and that was one of the tougher adjustments I think that she had to make,” Tauja said about Tamika’s role on the team. Despite having to adjust from her usual superstar role, Tamika was always willing to do it for a chance to play.

“It was such a strong level of talent with so many people who were qualified to do everything, so you maybe had to sacrifice what you are really good at for the betterment of the team, and I think ‘Mika always accepted that,” Wanda Catchings said.

Tamika was a prolific scorer for the Indiana Fever, but on this team she would need to shift her focus.

“I just asked myself what could I bring to the team that would give me more of a chance of making it, and right off the bat, the thing that I knew I could do was play defense,” Tamika said.

She remembers the realization clearly: everyone wants to come in and shoot, but how many players truly want to come in and get down and play hard-nosed defense? From that point on, she decided that the way to make the Olympic team was to do just that.

After making the team, she carried that defensive presence onto the court in Athens.

“Lisa [Leslie], Dawn [Staley], Sheryl [Swoopes], Tina [Thompson], and so many others, oh my gosh, she was just in awe of them,” Wanda Catchings remembers about her daughter. “I think she was just like, if I’m going to get to play alongside them, you need me for defense? Cool!”

Tamika’s defense went on to help lead that Olympic team to a gold medal, the first Olympic medal of her career. Today, that gold medal, along with two others, sits safely in a bank.

Tamika says that after her retirement this season, she might bring the medals home with her—joking that her new husband might try to wear them around town if she does—but not before she tries to add one more from Rio.

Regardless of what happens in Rio, it’s clear that she is ready to take in the whole experience one final time. From wearing the USA uniform, to seeing the flag raised while on the podium, Tamika is looking forward to cherishing every moment of the 2016 Olympics just as she did in 2004, wide-eyed and in awe of it all.

“Literally it’s just kind of surreal. All the work you’ve put in, wow, and just having the opportunity to go through it again this year,” Tamika pauses, as if she is reflecting on her long journey. “It just never gets old.” Return to Menu »»

2005: Humility in Success —

By the time 2005 rolled around, Catchings had started to make a name for herself. And that name quickly showed up on all-time records lists. On June 24, 2005, Catchings scored just two points but in doing so, became the fourth-fastest player in WNBA history to reach 2,000 career points.

That milestone was just the beginning for Catchings, who would go on to have her name near or at the top of lists for nearly every statistical category and milestone in the WNBA. She was the first to record 1,000 career steals, and the first to appear in 10 WNBA All-Star games.

Tamika Catchings
Tamika Catchings receives the game ball that she scored her 2,000th point with. She became the 2nd-fastest player in WNBA history to reach the 2,000-point mark.

Even today, she is still reaching milestones—in 2016, Catchings became the second player in WNBA history to score 7,000 points in her career, behind only Tina Thompson. She is the only player in WNBA history to rank among the Top 10 leaders in career points, rebounds, assists, steals, and games played. The list seems endless.

“You just know that whatever she takes on, whatever she decides to do, she’s going to be a success.” — Former Fever coach Lin Dunn

Her basketball talent has always been noticeable to anyone watching her play, but it’s the manner in which she approaches the game that allows her to turn that raw talent into such vast success.

“We had other players in our program who were very driven, very determined, very talented young women too, and they brought it to practice every day,” said her Duncanville High School coach Sara Hackerott. “But I think that with Tamika, even though she had this great amount of ability to play the game, she had a power and a strength and a drive, along with all of her athletic ability, that really put her at a different level.”

Former Fever coach Lin Dunn has seen that drive too.

“I’ve coached a lot of players in my career of 44 years, and now I’ve started coaching again so who knows how long I’ll coach for, and I can only think of one or two players that have had that type of work ethic, that tremendous desire, that relentless desire to be the best, and Tamika’s right at the top,” said Dunn. “You just know that whatever she takes on, whatever she decides to do, she’s going to be a success.”

That drive and passion shines through every time Tamika steps on the court, and it’s one thing that Tamika believes has helped her reach so many milestones throughout her career. But for a player with so much dominant success, Tamika Catchings has excelled at something else too: humility.

“She’s always wanted to be great, and she’s probably her own worst critic so she’s always pushing herself to improve, but I don’t think she’s ever been anybody that says ‘Oh I’ve got to be the MVP, I’ve got to be the assist leader’,” said Tauja. “I think that all of those awards and things have just sort of happened because it’s never been her focus. It’s never about her, it’s always about team.”

This team-first mentality has been a part of Tamika’s basketball approach for as long as she can remember. It’s what has driven her to be a better player, a better teammate, and a better person, all without any selfish intent. It’s something her parents and high school coaches noticed even when she was a young girl, and something that her sister says Tamika honed at Tennessee under the guidance of the late, team-centric Pat Summitt.

Even now, at the close of her career, the milestones and records are just part of the game for Tamika. Her focus is always on the team.

“I always want to do my best, and I always want to play hard because I don’t want to let the people around me down,” she said.

For Tamika Catchings, it seems it’s never really about Tamika Catchings.

Catchings’ ability to use her strengths to help the players around her is evident every time she steps on the court, and according to her father, former NBA player Harvey Catchings, it’s this trait that makes her so special.

“Tamika has taken more of a role where she says, not only am I trying to continue to get better and develop, but even more so, I’m trying to make sure that the people around me are getting better, and that they understand just how important they are to the team and what we are trying to do,” said Harvey Catchings.

After this season, Tamika’s name won’t be showing up next to any new records or milestones, but it’s in the aftermath of her playing career that she will truly put these accomplishments to work. Once again, it won’t be about herself.

Tamika Catchings
Tamika Catchings received the first of her WNBA-record five Defensive Player of the Year Awards in 2005. Catchings has since won the award in 2006, 2009, 2010 and 2012.

“She has excelled at her game, but at the very same time, she’s used her success to help other people along the way excel in their own way. That, to me, is success with the type of balance that you would want every player to have,” said Hackerott.

That ability—to turn her successes into successes for others—is the accomplishment Tamika is proudest of, and the one that above all of her records and milestones, puts her at the top of everyone’s list.

“I think if anything she will use it as a teaching moment—Yes, I’ve done all of these things, but so can you,” Tauja said with a smile. “It’s always to inspire other people.”

And inspire is exactly what Tamika Catchings has done. Return to Menu »»

2006: Relentless Pursuit —

“Literally, her name should be ‘Relentless Catchings’ because the word is her. Period.” — Former Fever coach Nell Fortner

In 2006, the WNBA celebrated its tenth birthday with the announcement of the WNBA All-Decade Team, made up of the 10 best and most influential players from its first 10 years of play. These players would be those who had contributed most to the overall success of the WNBA, and few people were surprised when Tamika Catchings was selected to this list.

“Man, it was just awesome! Definitely one of those things that wasn’t expected,” Catchings said. “It’s truly a blessing to be able to represent the league from the standpoint of being considered one of the best, one of the trailblazers.”

2006 WNBA All-Decade Team
Tamika Catchings was named to the WNBA’s All-Decade Team in 2006.

Each player on the list, which included legends like Sue Bird, Lisa Leslie, Sheryl Swoopes, and Tina Thompson, contributed on the court in exceptional ways, but what exactly was it about Tamika Catchings that led her to be considered one of the most impactful players to ever play in the WNBA?

“She just has ‘it’. I don’t even know what ‘it’ is, but she’s got it,” said her sister, Tauja Catchings.

Throughout her career, ‘it’ has been described using a few different words. Selflessness. Competitiveness. Determination. But the one used to describe Tamika Catchings more than any other is RELENTLESS.

“She brought to life what the word relentless really means to me. And I know I’ve said that word a lot, but I have not found a better word to describe her. Literally, her name should be ‘Relentless Catchings’ because the word is her. Period,” said former Fever coach Nell Fortner.

Fortner isn’t the only one who witnessed this about Tamika. In fact, examples of her relentlessness are woven throughout her career.

Long before her days in the WNBA, there’s a story that Harvey Catchings, Tamika’s father, tells about a day when she and Tauja were playing basketball in the driveway at home. Harvey came out to end the game and take the ball away because the girls were getting too heated, and Tauja went into the house to play with her dolls. After a few minutes, Harvey looked outside to see Tamika still on the court, running through drills and shooting postures with an imaginary basketball. Even without the ball, Tamika’s relentless attitude pushed her to keep playing.

“I think I knew at that point just how passionate about the game and truly committed she was,” Harvey Catchings said. “She’s just always had that never-say-die attitude.”

As Tamika got older, that relentlessness developed even further.

Sara Hackerott, Tamika’s coach at Duncanville High School, remembers one time at practice when her team was playing 5-on-5. Tamika was lined up with the free throw line on the left elbow when she shot the ball.

“Tamika knew she was going to miss it, and when the ball comes off the rim onto the other side, she jumps from somewhere in the middle of the lane, extends her body over to the right side of the basket, jumps up as if it’s the easiest thing in the world to do, and tips it back in,” Hackerott describes. “I just thought ‘Did I just see her do that?’ She just never, ever quits.”

In college and the WNBA, Tamika had to step up her game. But even with a heightened level of play, she still played in the same relentless fashion.

“We’re doing a little 2-on-2 drill, and she’s throwing her body out of bounds and into walls, and we’re standing on the sidelines like ‘stop that!’,” Nell Fortner remembers. “But Tamika has no off button when it comes to competing. If there’s a winner and loser, there’s no telling Tamika Catchings to hold back, that ain’t happening. She’s just not built that way.”

That relentless attitude, even in practice, is very familiar to former Fever coach Lin Dunn, too.

“Catch’s tremendous, just relentless personality is contagious, too. If you work with her, if you play with her, then you’re going to have to keep up with her. And so what I’ve learned over the years is not everybody can play on a team with Tamika Catchings; because she is going to push you to go to places you’ve never been before, because she’s going there. She’s always striving to do more, so if you work with her, you better get on or get out, because that’s who she is,” said Dunn.

Even Fever President and COO Kelly Krauskopf knows about Tamika’s relentlessness. She has seen it in Tamika’s recovery from an ACL injury her first season, when she would catch Tamika ignoring recommendations and roller blading around the concourse or putting in extra reps to try to come back that season. She has seen it during the exit interviews she does at the end of each season, when Tamika comes in with a set plan for how to make herself and the team better. She has seen it in the way Tamika has played every game in a Fever uniform, always the first to dive on a loose ball or grab a rebound.

Tamika Catchings
One of the constants throughout Tamika Catchings’ career has been the relentless effort she displays on the court.

While there is no single factor that led Catchings to the success she’s had, those around her believe it’s her relentlessness that truly separates her, even among the other tremendous players on the WNBA All-Decade Team. Perhaps Nell Fortner summarizes it best.

“I think there have been a lot of impactful players in the WNBA, but I think the impact Tamika will always have on the WNBA is that no one played the game harder than her. No one,” Fortner said. “There’s no one that attacked or rebounded or jumped on loose balls as relentlessly as she did. Nobody. You can name me a player and try to compare to Catchings, but it simply will not work.” Return to Menu »»

2007: Shining Through It All —

She remembers the moment vividly, as if 2007 wasn’t nine years ago.

“In game three, in the final minute of the second quarter, I jabbed with my right foot, went to take off left, and felt a pain as though someone were kicking me. But as I lay on the floor and looked back, I could see no one was there,” Tamika said in Catch the Stars.

She had suffered an Achilles tear and had to be wheeled off the court in a wheelchair. It was her second injury of that season—the first, a partial tear of her plantar fascia on July 20, left her sidelined for the final 13 games of the regular season—and wouldn’t allow Tamika back on the court for 6 months. Overcoming her frustration and the injury would be taxing for Tamika, but there was never any doubt that she would get through it. She had done it before—in 2001 when she missed the entire season with an ACL injury.

Tamika Catchings
Catchings sustained two serious injuries during the 2007 season. First, she missed the final 13 games of the regular season with a partially torn plantar fascia in her left foot. She then returned for the playoffs, but tore her Achilles in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

“She’s somebody that’s always had to overcome adversity and always had to work that much harder than everyone else,” said Tauja.

“I think it’s the determination that I have. I’ve always been a determined person and wanted to prove people wrong and come back even stronger than before,” said Tamika.

Overcoming had become a part of who Tamika was, hardwired into her personality.

“She’s always had that perseverance, that determination,” Wanda Catchings said. “She just had it figured out.”

From a very young age, Tamika was surrounded by hurdles. Hindered by a hearing impairment and incessant bullying at school because of things like her hearing aids, her glasses, or her mild lisp from her hearing impairment, she grew up facing plenty of obstacles.

She remembers the silence.

Saying “huh?” or “what?” more times than she can count. Filling notebooks with scrupulous notes and missing gaps when teachers would turn towards the chalkboard, and she could no longer read their lips. Going through life on mute.

And she remembers the noise.

“You can’t hear, you can’t talk, you’ll never be able to do this, you’ll never be successful,” Tamika repeated what she remembered bullies saying to her, lowering her voice a little as if replaying it in her mind. Bullied for being too small. Bullied for getting pulled out of class for speech help. Bullied for her hearing aids, which she would toss into a field one day out of mounting frustration.

But above all else, Catchings and those around her remember how she responded to those hurdles.

“I think it drove her to work incredibly hard, harder than anybody else works at something, whether it was dribbling, shooting, schoolwork, or whatever!” said Fortner. “I’m telling you, I’ve never coached another player who is so driven.”

Fortner says she’s not sure how Tamika uses her hearing loss internally, but knows learning to overcome it has played a big part in her success and determination. In fact, nearly every coach that Tamika has had over the years echoes that same idea.

“She chose to fight through that adversity, and so then I think that set the tone for who she is. That became part of her way back in junior high and high school—this is who I am, I’m going to get through this adversity, I’m going to show you what I can do,” said Dunn.

Tauja Catchings agrees that Tamika’s ability to overcome started when she was very young as she fought to overcome her hearing issues and low self-esteem. She remembers Tamika always saying one thing: “I’m going to find what I’m good at, and that’s going to be something that I pour my everything into”.

Growing up, Tamika Catchings was really good at two things. The first was reading; her parents rarely saw her without a book in her hands. When there was nothing new to read, Tamika would read the encyclopedia, cover-to-cover.

But when she didn’t have a book in her hands, Tamika escaped with basketball. And just like her sister said, she poured everything she had into it to become the best. The pound of the basketball on the court filled the silence in her head, and her success on the court saved her from the harsh criticism she faced from her peers off the court. The basketball court became her playground, her salvation, her escape.

As Tamika got older, her hard work became a habit. And in proving herself on the court to others, she was also proving herself to… herself. Over time, Tamika realized that her drive and focus allowed her to jump the hurdles in her life and that overcoming injuries would be no different.

“Everybody’s got issues, everybody’s got problems, it’s just got to be how you choose to deal with them,” said Wanda. “’Mika’s just always been so,” she hesitates, as if trying to find a word powerful enough to describe her, “just so, so strong.”

As strong as ever, Tamika would bounce back from her injuries in 2007, just as she had in 2001, just as she had throughout her entire life—stronger, better, and ready to make some noise. Return to Menu »»