Tamika Catchings is proud to be a role model and inspiration to the hearing impaired all over the world.
But it wasn’t always that way.
“My mom and dad found out I had a hearing disability when I was three years old,” said Catchings, whose hearing impairment affected both ears and led to her wearing hearing aids. “My freshman year in college is when I accepted that fact. Up until then I was ashamed of it and wished that God didn’t make me this way and that I could fit in and be like everybody else.''
Catching’s mindset about her disability changed once she embraced the hearing loss and after her college coach, the late Pat Summitt of the University of Tennessee, shared some inspiring words.
“She helped me see that one day my story could impact thousands and maybe millions of people, and it definitely has. It has shaped me as a person; I feel like it has been my sixth sense,” said said Catchings, currently the vice president of basketball operations and general manager for the WNBA’s Indiana Fever. “In a way it made me have to develop other areas of my game and is responsible for giving me that relentlessness and drive.
“It’s what really helped me elevate to that next level.”
Catchings reached the highest level of her career on Saturday, when she was named to be elected into the Class of 2020 Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in her first available year.
“I am incredibly honored to be included in this year’s Naismith Hall of Fame, and God only knows the dreams I had as a little girl to be able to follow in my father's footsteps,” she said of her dad, Harvey Catchings, a former professional basketball player for the Philadelphia 76ers, New Jersey Nets, Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Clippers.
“This is the top. It’s so cool and so awesome,” said Catchings. “When you look at the Hall of Fame, this is at the end of your career. There’s no turning back. This is the end. It’s just a great ending. It’s awesome.”
Catchings played her entire 15-year career with the Fever, was named the 2011 WNBA MVP and led the Fever to the 2012 WNBA Championship, earning Finals MVP honors. She was also named to the All-WNBA team 12 times in her career.
Before making her mark in the WNBA, she spent part of her high school years in Duncanville, Texas, playing volleyball and basketball at Duncanville High School, eventually leading the volleyball team to a state championship in 1995 – her first semester on campus - and the basketball team to a state championship in the 1996-97 season, her senior year. She was also named a WBCA (Women’s Basketball Coaches Association) All-American while at Duncanville.
After winning a title with Duncanville, Catchings played at the University of Tennessee from 1997-2001, winning a national championship under Summitt. Catchings ranks fourth all-time in career points for the Lady Vols She is the first Lady Vol player to be voted into the Hall of Fame.
Catchings also won four consecutive Olympic gold medals with Team USA from 2002-2016.
Catchings will share induction into the Hall of Fame with some big names including Baylor coach Kim Mulkey, NBA stars Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan, Summitt and the late Kobe Bryant, her childhood friend. Catchings and Bryant’s fathers were in the NBA and Italy together as the two children grew up. Both had dreams of going into the Hall of Fame and both spent their entire playing careers with one team.
“It’s bittersweet but I think it’s also a celebration,” said Catchings of Kobe. “It’s a celebration of all the things we have been able to accomplish and of course Kobe is the headliner of it all.
“I don’t feel sadness,'' Catchings said as she looks forward to The Class of 2020 scheduled to be enshrined on Saturday, August 29 in Springfield, Massachusetts, the home of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. "I feel happiness and I feel like we will still be able to celebrate him. I know that he’s looking down on us with a big smile on his face.”