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Catching a Fever: The bond between Tamika Catchings and Indiana

Catchings is set to become the first player in WNBA history to stay with single franchise for 15 years. The 2001 first round draft pick has been loyal to Indiana since turning pro, and upon retiring after the 2016 season, Catchings will have played for the Fever a total of 15 years not counting her missed season in 2001 with a torn ACL.

Chris Poss

It takes continued excellence to be legendary, and in the WNBA, Tamika Catchings defines legend.

The former regular-season MVP (2011) made her way to a packed Madison Square Garden where the Fever was hosted by top-seeded New York Liberty. With an overflow of green and orange in the arena, it was evident that New York had the home court advantage.

But Indiana had the momentum from game two, where they overcame an 18-point deficit (led by Catchings with 25 points) to secure the victory and take the Eastern Conference Finals to a deciding game three.

As both teams took the floor, a resounding, "Let's go Liberty" echoed throughout Madison Square Garden; the fight for a chance at the WNBA Finals was underway.

The Fever took control of the game early on and had an 11-point lead by halftime. Marissa Coleman opened up the third quarter hitting three shots from behind the arc to add nine for Indiana.

By the fourth quarter, New York was trying to save their season in a last-ditch effort; they looked to the bench in Candice Wiggins who scored eight unanswered points to cut the Fever's lead to four. But Indiana veteran forward, Catchings, seized the opportunity to lead her team to victory once again.

"[If I] do what I do offensively and defensively, playing with the passion that I always play with, the will power, I get my team to ride behind me, and if we all have it, we're unstoppable." stated Catchings when asked about what it would take to be successful going up against the Liberty.

And unstoppable they were. Catchings, who holds the WNBA playoff record in points, rebounds, steals, and double-doubles, stepped up when everything was on the line to get the 66-51 win over New York. She posted 14 points, four rebounds, two assists, and a block on the road.

On playing in Madison Square Garden, Catchings said, "That's the environment that you want to play in, you don't want a boring gym. Spike Lee right before the game was yelling my name, and I looked at him and winked my eye.  This is the environment that you want to play in, the Eastern Conference Finals."

With the win, Stephanie White becomes the first ever rookie head coach to make an appearance in the WNBA Finals, so she can add that to her list of "firsts" at Indiana where she already claimed the role as first former WNBA player to ever assist in coaching with the Fever. And when she was named the Fever head coach in September of 2014, she became the league's youngest active coach at age 37.

Only two years separate White (38) and Catchings (36), but White has much respect for her star captain. "We are going to have Tameka [Catchings] involved one way or another whether she is leading the offense or using her for spacing, by the way, she is getting double teamed and defended. She is even being a facilitator."

And even though she is still in her first season as a head coach, White has bonded with her team and is seeing the chemistry payoff in postseason games like tonight against the Liberty. "We [myself and the team] encouraged each other, they played for one another, they were unselfish, and this team has really been a joy for me to coach. I am really proud of every single one of them."

Catchings agrees that the Fever play well together as a team. "Having that fight and that desire coming out in game two both times in Chicago and then today, in this series, coming out in game two with that fire and that energy in the second half...just really proud of my team."

However, would that Indiana team be the same without standout athlete Tamika Catchings? The 6'1" forward has dressed out in a Fever jersey every time she has hit the floor in the WNBA (14 years), and it is hard to believe that it would be possible for the Fever to have qualified for the WNBA playoffs 12 times in their 16 years of existence without their 2001 first round draft pick turned Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame inductee.

Catchings is a 10-time WNBA All-Star, a five-time WNBA Defensive Player of the Year, she was the WNBA's Most Valuable Player in 2011, and was named the WNBA Finals MVP when the Fever won the WNBA Championship in 2012.

But before Tamika started her professional career, the New Jersey native made a name for herself when she recorded the first ever quintuple-double (25 points, 11 assists, 10 steals, and 10 blocks) in 1997 at Duncanville High School in Texas.

Basketball has always been an important part of Tamika's life as her father, Harvey Catchings, was selected in the third round of the NBA draft and played for 11 years, so it should be no surprise that the young athlete who was named Rookie of the Year back in 2002 is about to enter her 15th season with Indiana.

Catchings is a hard worker on and off the court. Despite the fact that she was born with a hearing disability, Tamika has successfully overcome adversity time and time again.

She has set records at the high school, collegiate, and professional level in basketball, and she accepted the Reynolds Society Achievement Award in 2000 for persevering through a hearing impairment in both ears. Catchings established the Catch the Stars Foundation to help underprivileged children live out their dreams.

On the topic of hardworking teammates like herself, Catchings says, "I feel like every year we never get respect, I might get respect as a player but it's never as a team and what we're capable of doing. A lot of it is because we don't have an All-Star or the Olympians.  I'll take a team of players that will work every single day, work their butt off, rather than a star that comes just to be there and shows up for practice and plays great.

"I feel like I've made more of a difference in the lives of my teammates, so when I am done, and I do retire, they can still operate on a championship level because they have somebody that they could watch for two years."

Catchings announced that her final time on the court would be during the 2016 season.

"I will be retiring in 2016, Lord willing, if my body holds up," said Catchings. "Although I plan to step away as a player that is not to say, I'll step away from the game, hopefully. I am so thankful and blessed to have had an opportunity to play the game I have loved for so long.

"God has truly blessed me with an amazing playing career, and now it's time to start transitioning to what He has for me beyond the lines of the basketball floor."

Catchings and her team will travel to Minnesota to play a best of five series for the 2015 WNBA Finals. The number four seed in the Eastern Conference, the Fever, hopes to upset the number one seed in the Western Conference, the Lynx.

It only seems fair that such an iconic figure in women's athletics should finish on a high note.