Fever's Catchings cherishing every moment of farewell tour
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Tamika Catchings relishes every moment she has left on the court.
At her final WNBA preseason game, her hands got inexplicably clammy. At her final media day, she playfully jumped into photos with teammates and answered every last question. The Indiana Fever's longtime franchise player still isn't sure how she'll feel during her final season opener Saturday against Dallas, or what her emotions might be when she plays her final home game later this year.
Each moment, however, will carve out a special place in Catchings' 15th and final WNBA chapter.
''I take photos of everything, so at the end there will probably be a photo album,'' said Catchings, who is retiring after this season. ''You know I always try to be in the moment, but it's hard to be in the moment sometimes.''
For those who have followed her incredible story over the past two decades, there have been plenty of moments to share.
They watched the daughter of former NBA player Harvey Catchings overcome a hearing impairment that affected both ears.
They cheered as the highly touted freshman forward helped Tennessee complete a perfect season in 1997-98. They applauded when she became a three-time All-American and the 2000 national player of the year.
They groaned when her senior season was cut short by a knee injury and roared with approval when she returned to the court and began one of the most storied pro careers in basketball history.
And they will be there to watch Catchings close out a career that included a rookie of the year award, 10 All-Star appearances, five WNBA defensive player of the year awards, one MVP trophy, one WNBA title and the 2012 Finals MVP honors.
But Catchings became much more than just a big-time player.
Her charity, the Catch The Stars Foundation, awards scholarships to Indianapolis-area high school student-athletes who have been active in community work. She has supported reading programs, provided back-to-school supplies for children and helped write two inspirational books detailing the twists and turns of her life.
As she evolved from shy rookie to gregarious veteran, Catchings became an ambassador for women's basketball, a role model for her teammates and a friend to almost anyone she met.
''There have been a lot of great players in the WNBA, but I'm not sure there's been a more well-rounded player than Tamika,'' Fever coach and former WNBA player Stephanie White said. ''The way she lives her life, the way she's embraced young people is hard to put into words. I'll put it this way: There are very few players you play against that you want to hug right after the game.''
Now Catchings has figured out how to put her own imprint on the traditional script of a farewell tour.
Instead of giving speeches or accepting gifts from teams, Catchings is presenting $2,000 grants to a local charity that promotes fitness, literacy and mentoring in 12 different cities. After those games, Catchings will sign autographs and auction off personal mementoes including the game shoes she wore that night. Tickets will cost $24, matching Catchings' jersey number, with proceeds going to Catch The Stars.
The goal is to raise $100,000 so the charity can expand into each of the WNBA's cities.
''She gives so much of herself to everyone else, that we want to give something back to her - to mimic that passion and give her a championship in her final season,'' Fever center Natalie Achonwa said.
To do that, the 36-year-old Catchings must embrace the new reality of her basketball world.
After passing the captains' torch to Erlana Larkins and Briann January, she's likely to log fewer minutes in part because she decided to spend the WNBA's midseason Olympic break chasing a fourth gold medal.
But the league's active leader in scoring (6,947), rebounds (3,153) and steals (1,012) also understands she'll be the feature attraction everywhere she goes this season.
The ''thank you'' chants that followed Kobe Bryant during his NBA farewell tour are likely to follow her, too. She could become the first Fever player whose jersey is retired, and a Hall of Fame induction may not be far off, either.
So, for once, Catchings the competitor is going to let herself savor the other part of her basketball life.
''I am trying to soak up every single moment we have together,'' she said. ''Even through training camp and making sure we're doing all the things we're supposed to be doing, and I'm doing as much as I can, soak in the good times and the bad times. It's going to be really special.''