Tamika Catchings: Champ On and Off the Court
By Jewel Graham
The 700 Club
Standout WNBA Star, Tamika Catchings was born a timid little girl with a speech impediment due to a hearing loss and big round glasses. The Lord used Tamika’s awkwardness as a young girl to steer her towards basketball and her basketball skills today to steer people towards Christ.
Tamika grew up in the church, but her faith became real to her on a daily basis, her senior year at the University of Tennessee when just months before the WNBA draft, the all-star suffered a season ending injury. All of a sudden, all she had was God, and Tamika says God gave her the peace and the strength to make it through. The Indiana Fever drafted her in 2001 and she just resigned for four more years.
In the words of Tamika Catchings:
“Seventh grade was the first time that I had actually set a goal. I wanted to be a professional basketball player. I wanted to be in the NBA. I knew what I wanted to do and Lord willing I am going to get there.”
Tamika became a University of Tennessee Lady Vol in 1998. Her career immediately shot off the charts, setting records for the most points scored and most rebounds. During her collegiate career, she led the team to four SEC regular season titles and three SEC tournament titles, including one national championship. But the road to success wasn’t always easy.
“Growing up I had a hearing problem. I had a speech problem. I had to wear glasses. I really didn't like to talk a lot because of my speech problem. People always found a way to make fun of me: the way I talked, the way I looked, my hearing aids being too big and my glasses. There was always something that stood out.”
The teasing took its toll and Tamika looked for some place, any place, to fit in.
“I think that what helped me find my niche was obviously finding things where I didn't have to talk. In the classroom I loved learning. I loved reading. Sports period. Basketball, softball, volleyball, track. We did a little bit of everything. That was an area I knew that if I worked hard enough I could be better than the next person.”
Sure enough, the daughter of former NBA star Harvey Catchings excelled in basketball. Then, a serious injury sidelined Tamika and threatened to end her career.
“It wasn't till I got hurt my senior year, when I tore my ACL, and it was an eye opening experience. I put my focus on basketball. Basketball was my life. Every single day I was thinking about it and dreaming about it. When I got hurt it was like, take a step back and figure out where you are going, what direction you are going in. At first it was like, oh my gosh, I am hurt, I am not going to make the WNBA. I worked so hard to get here. It was like, I did this and I did that. It was like, you take a step back and I was like, Whoa. I didn't do this. There was no way I can do this. God did this for me.”
Injured, but with a new perspective on faith and basketball, Tamika prayed for her name to be called on draft day.
“It was the number three pick for Indiana and I was like, ‘Did she just call my name? I don't even know how to explain the feeling that went through me. It was more like a relief and then it is like, man I set my goal when I was in seventh grade and here I am among some of the top players in the world. And to have a platform to not only play basketball, but to share my faith, and people see me and who I stand for, and that is the most awesome thing about it.”
Tamika’s injury kept her from playing her rookie year, but this time, it didn’t rock her faith.
“Peace definitely came from God. It came from realizing I needed to remove my focus from basketball back to God. It seems like every single time I have been hurt it has been the same thing. It's been that you get so caught up in what you are doing that you forget to give Him the glory.”
Tamika became the first player in franchise’s history to score 1000 points, not to mention her four Gold Medals and a trip to Beijing in 2008. All that success gives the little girl who wouldn’t talk a national platform to share her faith!
“It is hard to be a Christian in the WNBA; and I think it is because of so many different stereotypes. Just trying to walk with Him and not be pulled by all the negative forces from the outside. I think that what I do with my platform is that I live my life as Christlike as I can.”
“God is definitely my Savior. He's the one that walks beside me through my ups and downs and the one that keeps me focused on where I am going in life. He protects me. He provides for me. He guides me and he leads me.”
Tamika's well-known nickname is “Catch”. Actively involved in the community, she founded “Catch the Stars,” a foundation that provides an opportunity for inner city kids to be positively reinforced through sports and education, two of her passions. Her sister, Tauja, a former WNBA player, runs it.
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