When you are discussing the greatest players in women’s basketball history you probably think of Hall of Famers like Cynthia Cooper, Nancy Lieberman, and Cheryl Miller. Another name that should end up on that list in the near future is the great Tamika Catchings. She went 39-0 as a freshman at Tennessee and won the 1998 NCAA title, then led the WNBA in scoring as a rookie in 2002, was named league MVP in 2011, and led her team to a WNBA title in 2012. In addition to being a great scorer, she is the only man or woman to ever be named defensive POY on five different occasions, and in her spare time she helped team USA win three straight Olympic gold medals from 2004-2012. CHD’s Jon Teitel got to chat with Tamika about her work with the Allstate WBCA Good Works Team and what she thinks is going to happen this weekend at the Women’s Final 4 in Nashville.
Your father Harvey played in the NBA, your sister Tauja played professionally in Sweden, and your nephew Bobby played at Eastern Illinois: who is the best athlete in the family, and do you credit at least some of your success to genetics? Genetics for sure, but I also credit my dad because he spent countless hours with me to help me improve my game. I had the longest pro career of anyone in my family so I would say that I am the best athlete!
In 1997 as a senior at Duncanville High School you recorded the first-ever quintuple double in basketball history (25 points, 18 rebounds, 11 assists, 10 steals, and 10 blocks). Did it feel like you were just having another great game or did you realize toward the end that you were on the verge of total domination? It felt like just another game: my teammates would tell you that I just went out and played instead of focusing on stats.
In the 1998 NCAA tourney as a freshman at Tennessee you won the title with a perfect 39-0 record under Coach Pat Summit. What was the most important thing you ever learned from Coach Summit, and how were you able to stay focused for every single game that year? The most important thing Pat stressed from a basketball standpoint was for us to just keep working hard to get better. Our practices were very rough: it seemed like someone would walk off the court every day with some blood on their jersey. We just pushed ourselves so hard: our practices were often harder than our games.
In January 2001 as a senior you tore your ACL and ended up missing the entire next year as a WNBA rookie with the Indiana Fever. How were you able to overcome this terrible injury to become WNBA ROY in 2002 after leading the league with 594 points? I tore my ACL on Martin Luther King Day so I only got to play ½ the season. I had an entire year to prepare for the WNBA so I took advantage of my time in rehab and had some great coaches who kept me in the gym every day.
In 2004 you became President of the WNBA Players Association, why did you take the job, and what has been the hardest part so far? I became president after getting nominated, so it was nice to know that everyone respected me. The hardest thing about negotiations is trying to get what is best for your side, but we just signed a new collective bargaining agreement that should take us into the next decade.
In 2011 you were named WNBA MVP and voted by the fans as one of the top-15 players in WNBA history. Where does that year rank among the best of your career? The accolades were nice…but 2012 was better because we won the title. It is nice to be a fan favorite but individual awards are less important than a team championship.
In Game 4 of the 2012 Finals you had 25 points and eight assists to beat Minnesota, clinch the title, and be named Finals MVP. What did it mean to you to win the title, and were you out for revenge after getting swept by the Lynx during the regular season? Nobody said it could be done, which is what motivated us. We had our ups and downs during the year but at the end of the day we just decided that we could do it. When I look at the photo in our locker room of that trophy I know that it means a lot both to our team and to the entire city.
You are a five-time WNBA DPOY and the league’s all-time career leader with 2.5 steals per game. What is the key to playing great defense? You have to stay active and take chances, and you cannot always focus on scoring. It takes a lot of heart.
You won three Olympic gold medals with team USA. What is your favorite Olympic memory? Just standing on the podium at each of the three medal ceremonies with the crowd going crazy and watching the flag get raised as the anthem starts playing. That is the best single moment, and it never gets old.
You are part of the Allstate WBCA Good Works Team (college basketball’s pre-eminent community service award). What are you doing with Allstate at the Final 4, and any predictions as to who will be this year’s champ? I am excited to be working with Allstate. I will meet up with 10 young ladies and go to the Vanderbilt Cancer Center to talk to some of their patients. It is a true testament to some amazing women who have worked hard both on and off the court, so it is a big deal. As far as the winner, I think it will be UConn or Notre Dame, but it will be tough for the Irish without Natalie Achonwa in the lineup.