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Tears of joy: Catchings, Fever share emotional night

It was an emotional night for the Indiana Fever as the franchise paid tribute to Tamika Catchings. The focus was on Catchings, yet at the same time, there was focus on keeping momentum going as Indiana heads into the WNBA playoffs.

Tamika Catchings, last game, Indiana Fever Michael Hickey - Getty Images

INDIANAPOLIS, IN — On Sunday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, in front of the 17,704 people, the second-largest crowd in Indiana Fever history, Tamika Catchings played her last regular-season WNBA game against the Dallas Wings.

Catchings — 11-time WNBA All-Star, 4-time Olympic Gold Medalist, 5-time winner of the Defensive Player of the Year Award, and most importantly, 2012 WNBA Champion — walked onto a court surrounded by thousands of fans donning matching “#24Forever” t-shirts to show their respect, love, and admiration for one of the most well-revered players in WNBA history.

No person can deny the impact that Catchings has had on the WNBA. Minnesota Lynx star Maya Moore laughed as she admitted to viewers in an interview before the game, that she “started wearing knee-pads because Tamika Catchings wore knee pads.” On a more serious note, Catchings’ teammate, Natalie Achonwa, told interviewers, “Any moment on the floor, I honor her by playing as hard as I can.”

As a player who has always gone above and beyond the call of duty and who has consistently given 110%, Catchings was in great company tonight with a team that did just the same.

When Dallas Wings Coach Fred Williams was asked how he and the Wings could honor Catchings, he responded saying “by playing a competitive game.” With a final score of 83-60, the game proved to highlight the Fever’s drive to honor Catchings by pulling through with a remarkable win- a win that would, in fact, be their second largest margin of victory of the season.

Even with the Wings’ 23-point loss, however, Williams stood by his team: “I just told them to go out and play hard. There would be a lot of emotional things going on in this game. And I think both teams played hard basketball, even though the score was a little bit lopsided in the second half. Both teams played hard, and our young ladies did what we needed to do to make sure that it was a good ending.”

Indiana’s Coach, Stephanie White, had only two focus points for this last regular season game: to play consistently well in preparation for the playoffs and to honor Tamika Catchings the best that they could.

As early as the second quarter, it was clear that White and the Fever could successfully check both of those boxes off. At the half, Catchings had already scored 12 points, as well as her 2000th free throw of her career, making her the only player in WNBA history to achieve that milestone.

As Catchings and Indiana continued to heat up after the half, Dallas didn’t put up much of a fight. By the end of the third quarter, they had missed 16 of their 18 shots and were only shooting 28% from the floor. Karima Christmas proved to be the only player in double digits, with 12 points, and their meager 10 off the bench points were embarrassingly overshadowed by the Fever’s astonishingly impressive 55.

What was it that drove them to this incredible win? Indiana’s Shenise Johnson accredited it all to Catchings, “I think Catchings’ intensity and her passion fuels you. It was definitely difficult. Before we even started the game we cracked open a tear. But at the same time, it’s bigger than basketball sometimes.

“Sometimes it’s just bigger than basketball. And ‘Catch’ is just one of those amazing people where it just happens to be so.”

The Dallas Wings showed their immense respect and love for Catchings, by presenting her with Wings jersey signed by all of the players. There was not a dry eye from the Wings’ players nor the Fever as the exchange was made. That one moment spoke volumes of Catchings’ character and the high esteem in which her teammates, and even her opponents, hold her.

With 1:33 left in the fourth quarter, and a score of 76-56, Tamika Catchings took the bench for her last regular season game with 17,704-person standing ovation and a well-deserved two-minute round of applause from her fans and admirers.

Coach White could not have sung higher praises for her friend, former teammate, and player:

“What can I say that I haven’t already? I mean, she’s just been the foundation and cornerstone of our franchise. She makes everyone around her better. She works hard to be a friend and a leader, and when you are on her team, you work harder to make sure you don’t let her down. She means so much to everyone. I am so thankful to have played against her, played with her, and coached with her and won a title here with her.

“We have shared so much. I feel fortunate to call her my friend. I am not sure I know a more driven, more dedicated, more passionate and yet more giving person. She’s a giver, and now it’s time that we all give a little something to her. She’s special and will go down as one of the greatest ever to play this game.”

When asked about her last regular season game to round out her 15-year career, the humble Catchings could only say thank you: “It’s a blessing, not just for me, but for my teammates, and my family…” She said that she knew the late Pat Summit was “watching her from above” and that she was so “thankful for the opportunity.” She stated that the night had been the “epitome of what sharing love is all about.”

Although it might’ve been Catchings’ last regular season game, she and the Fever will not slow down, as they clinched the number five seed in the playoffs with their unbelievable win. On Wednesday, they will host either Phoenix or Seattle for the first game of the playoffs.