Over the past dozen years, Tamika Catchings would have had more than one game to bid adieu in the WNBA playoffs. Not in 2016. On Wednesday, Catchings and the Indiana Fever, the No. 5 overall seed in the league’s new playoff format, were eliminated by the Phoenix Mercury in an 89-78 loss at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. Under the new single-elimination format, Catchings’ last postseason run ended abruptly, as did her 15-year professional career — one month after she captured a fourth Olympic gold medal as a member of the U.S. women’s national team.
The superlatives and statistics testifying to Catchings’ achievements are vast. But there are some that stand out more than others in encapsulating a career that included more than two decades as a participant in USA Basketball national team programs. Here’s a quick look at the numbers that help define Catchings’ vaunted run on the hardwood.
1 WNBA Championship
In 2012, Catchings’ 11-year career was already studded with accomplishments. There was an NCAA championship at Tennessee. That summer, she’d left London with her third Olympic gold medal. And she was a 2011 WNBA MVP. What had eluded her was a WNBA title. That October, though, she added the last asset she’d been missing — a WNBA title. In Game 4 of the WNBA Finals, the Indiana Fever defeated the Minnesota Lynx 87-78. As she had throughout her career, Catchings hoisted the franchise on her sculpted shoulders, scoring 25 points, doling out eight assists, snagging four rebounds and swatting three blocks.
3rd pick in the WNBA Draft
Kelly Krauskopf took a risk. The new general manager for the expansion Indiana Fever owned the third pick in the 2001 WNBA draft, and she faced a difficult choice. Seventeen games into her senior season at Tennessee, Catchings tore her anterior cruciate ligament. The four-time All-American and a former player of the year would have to sit out her rookie WNBA season. Would she be the same? Would the 6-1 small forward have the size and strength to defend and rebound against bigger players, but also maintain the explosive first step and handle to play on the wing? Krauskopf bet on yes, and plucked Catchings. Catchings sat out 2001, watching the Fever stumble to a 10-22 record. Doubts disappeared after her debut: 27 points, five assists, six steals and three blocked shots in a rookie season where she posted a stat line of 18.6 points, 8.6 rebounds, 3.7 steals and 1.3 blocks per game.
4 Olympic Gold Medals
The 2004 U.S. Olympic roster was one of transition as a new generation of players in Catchings, Diana Taurasi and Sue Bird blended with veterans in Lisa Leslie, Sheryl Swoopes and Dawn Staley. Yet it was Catchings who broke into the starting five, averaging 6.9 points and 5.4 rebounds. Team USA won a gold medal, as expected, but the next round of stars had emerged. It was the first of four gold medals for Catchings, who is tied for the most by any player in men’s or women’s basketball history. Four years later, she overcame a torn Achilles tendon to win her second gold in Beijing. And the U.S. triumph in 2012 was a forerunner of Catchings’ WNBA crown. In 2016, though, she embraced a reduced role in her fourth Olympic Games, seeing 10 minutes a game and posting 3.1 points and 2.5 rebounds in Rio de Janeiro.
12 Consecutive WNBA Playoff Appearances
The Fever set a WNBA record and holds the third-longest active streak in American professional sports. Along the way, they reached the Eastern Conference finals in each of the past five seasons, and eight times in the franchise’s history. Catchings’ presence has helped create a stable core around which the roster can be built. It’s that consistency with Catchings that’s helped the Fever exist as a profitable franchise and a WNBA leader in sponsorship sales.
2,113 Collegiate Career Points
In the Tennessee record books, Catchings is the Lady Vols’ fourth all-time leading scorer. Yet she also occupied a special place in the heart of legendary coach Pat Summitt, who died in June from early onset dementia. Catchings arrived in Knoxville and was immediately part of the “Three Meeks” along with Chamique Holdsclaw and Semeka Randall, a trio that helped the Vols go undefeated and win a national title. Yet her bond was close to Summitt, who sat courtside in 2012 to watch her former player win the WNBA title. And as Catchings cleaned out her garage on Tuesday, she found a note scrawled in blue ink from Summitt, one written in 2002 as Catchings recovered from a torn ACL: “I’m proud of you, and proud for you,” it read.
While Catchings tended to carry the scoring load for the Fever, she also built her career on vise-grip defending and prowess on the backboards. She leaves the WNBA as the all-time leader in career rebounders — along with steals — and finished ahead of more traditional low-block players in Lisa Leslie, Tina Thompson and Yolanda Griffith. She ends her career as the sole WNBA player to rank among the top 10 leaders in career points, rebounds, assists, steals and games played. The rebounding was also a valued asset as a member of the U.S. women’s national team, where she deferred scoring and took on hard-nosed jobs as part of packed rosters.
In 2004, Catchings founded her Catch the Stars foundation, whose mission was to use mentoring to help promote fitness and literacy. Over the past five years, the group has raised nearly $1 million to meet this goal. The foundation has set up reading corners in community centers, fitness clinics, an annual holiday basketball camp and six-week mentoring programs to help teach kids ages 12-16 mentoring skills. Additionally, the foundation awards two $2,500 scholarships to high school scholar athletes each year.