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Jun 5, 2020

With the highly anticipated induction of Tamika Catchings into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame coming up this summer, Hoosier History Live is taking a look back at the challenges the Indiana Fever legend confronted during her spectacular career as a player, as well as her aspirations for post-Fever life.

Since the original broadcast of this show in 2017 - one year after she retired as a player - Tamika has been named general manager and vice president of operations for the Fever. In August, the honor that she has called a "storybook ending" is expected to unfold with her enlistment into the Hall of Fame. 

Tamika Catchings won gold at each of the four Olympic Games she played in between 2004 and 2016. Courtesy Olympics.orgShe will be inducted along with other basketball superstars, including her lifelong friend Kobe Bryant, whose posthumous membership comes after he was killed in a helicopter crash in January. During this interview with our host Nelson, Tamika talks about the childhood bond with Bryant that began when they were growing up in Italy, where their fathers played pro basketball.  

Tamika went on to be one of the most beloved athletes in Indiana history - and not only because she was considered to have been one of the best female professional basketball players ever. Nor is it merely because she won four Olympic gold medals.

Tamika Catchings is regarded as an inspirational figure even by admirers who never have attended an Indiana Fever game.

Born with a profound hearing impairment that caused her to be bullied as a child, Tamika established her Catch the Stars Foundation in 2004 to help young people confronted by challenges. She wrote an autobiography, Catch a Star (Revell Publishing, 2016) in which she describes how she was discouraged from chasing dreams.

Tamika, now 40, was named a Living Legend by the Indiana Historical Society in 2017. Also that year, her jersey (No. 24) became the first to be permanently retired by the Indiana Fever; her entire 15-year playing career in the WNBA was spent with the team.

During our show, Tamika talks about a range of aspects of her life and career, which included a role that surprised many: tea shop proprietor. In 2017, Tamika bought the Tea's Me Cafe on the near north side of Indianapolis after learning that the owners intended to shutter it. She had been a longtime patron and didn’t want the cafe to close.

A year earlier, she married her husband, Parnell Smith, in a small ceremony in downtown Indy. She became a commentator for ESPN's SEC network. And in 2017, Tamika gave the commencement address at IUPUI.

"If anyone can do it, you can," she repeated to the graduates as a refrain throughout her speech.

Although her father, Harvey Catchings, enjoyed a 12-year career with the NBA and then played pro basketball overseas, the WNBA didn't even exist until Tamika was 16 years old.

By then, she had moved multiple times, spending her formative years everywhere from Italy to Texas as the family was continually uprooted because of her father's career. In Catch a Star, which Tamika wrote with Ken Petersen, she describes how she was perceived at the succession of new schools:

Tony Dungy"Tamika Catchings was still just an odd-looking girl with big box hearing aids over her ears."

She went on to lead the Fever to a national championship in 2012, win four Olympic gold medals (the most recent at the 2016 Rio Olympics) as a key player on Team USA and receive the ESPN Humanitarian Award.

"Tamika has been a shining light in the community, a tireless worker and a tremendous role model not only for young athletes, but for everyone," writes Tony Dungy, the former Indianapolis Colts coach, in the introduction to Catch a Star. "She is one of the rare superstar athletes who really 'get it.'"

Tamika was drafted by the Indiana Fever in 2001 after leading the University of Tennessee's team to a national championship. At Tennessee, she had suffered a severe leg injury, but in Indianapolis she rebounded and excelled with the Fever, overcoming what Tamika describes in her autobiography as painful shyness during her youth.

"The name-calling, the put-downs, all the being singled out and set apart was too much," she writes in Catch a Star, referring to childhood teasing because of the hearing aids she wore.

When she launched her Catch the Stars Foundation, Tamika's goal was to help disadvantaged and challenged youth. In recent years, the foundation has expanded its mission to "empower youth to achieve their dreams by providing goal-setting programs that promote literacy, fitness and mentoring," as stated on the organization's website.