Who Is: Basketball Hall of Famer Tamika Catchings
The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Class of 2020 was announced over the weekend, honoring nine people who have contributed to the game. I'm sure you instantly saw the names Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan and knew this was a special class.
The Class of 2020's ceremony will be especially emotional considering Bryant, who spent 20 years and won five championships with the Los Angeles Lakers, died in a helicopter crash earlier this year. His widow, Vanessa, bravely commented on what the Hall of Fame induction means, calling it the "peak of his NBA career." Duncan, who also won five championships (his with the San Antonio Spurs) has established his own right to be celebrated as has Garnett, who won the 2008 championship with the Boston Celtics and will have his jersey retired by the team next season.
But we all know women's basketball is still on the upward battle to get the respect it deserves. Even for me as a woman, I know I haven't done the best job I could raising awareness about women's sports. I grew up watching games with my dad and never really played myself, so I rallied behind figures like Garnett, Allen Iverson, Michael Jordan and Kemba Walker (I'm shocked I still haven't written about him here...) But I've grown more and more aware of my personal need to champion women's sports and was so honored to do a feature for the Los Angeles Times on Sheryl Swoopes and her Air Swoopes signature Nike shoe. Anyways, I say all of that to say, I want to give you a quick education on another Class of 2020 member that didn't make the headlines of the major news sources, but deserves to be respected as another great 24: Tamika Catchings.
Tamika Catchings won the 2012 WNBA title with the Indiana Fever and was named Finals MVP in the series. The forward spent 15 years on the Fever, mostly carrying the team on her back as ESPN writer Kevin Pelton points out, she didn't have notable teammates like many other WNBA legends. During her career, the Fever went to the playoffs 12 seasons straight and made it to the Finals three times. Catchings was Defensive Player of the Year five times and, after being the third overall pick in the 2001 draft, she garnered the Rookie of the Year honor in 2002. She still stands in third place for most points in WNBA history and is the all-time leader in steals with 1,074.
Catchings also is a college star, playing for the Tennessee Lady Vols. She was a member of the undefeated team that won the NCAAW Championship in 1998 under the leadership of Pat Summitt and returned to the Big Dance in 2000 to finish second to UCONN. Her name is plastered across the storied program's record book, placing in the top five in all-time points, steals, field goals and free throws.
On top of all of that, Catchings won four Olympic gold medals with Team USA. Michael Jordan has won two. As does Bryant. Lisa Leslie (HOF Class of 2015), Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi each also have four gold medals of their own.
Fun fact: Catchings competed on American Ninja Warrior in 2019.
Catchings rightfully was elected to the Hall of Fame with her first time on the ballot. She joins Summitt as the only other Lady Vol given membership to the prestigious group even though the program has won an astounding eight national championships. The WNBA is still paving its way into the Hall, but we can have peace of mind that players like Leslie and Swoopes have gotten their due shine.
When Bryant passed, it was evident that he was a strong ally for women's basketball as Phoenix Mercury star Diana Taurasi and Oregon Ducks phenom Sabrina Ionescu spoke at his memorial ceremony about the hope he and his daughter, Gianna, gave them about the future of the sport. Hours after the emotional affair, Ionescu went on to play a record-breaking game where she became the first NCAA athlete of either gender to rack up 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 1,000 assists in her career.
We can all do our small part in making sure these athletes are given their due shine. We don't have to pretend that we know every stat or have alerts on our phones about WNBA news. But we can all be aware and respectful of the greatness in front of us.
The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Class of 2020 enshrinement ceremony is scheduled to be held Saturday, August 29.