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Q&A: ‘Dream Catcher is my ninja name,’ says basketball legend Tamika Catchings

WNBA legend Tamika Catchings will compete on NBC’s “American Ninja Warrior” tonight at 8 p.m. ET. Here’s what Catchings had to say on ninja training, how basketball helped her to prepare for the course and why she’s doing this now.

Tamika Catchings, a retired WNBA champion and current vice president of Indiana Fever basketball operations, competes on NBC’s American Ninja Warriors at the Baltimore City Qualifiers.
William Gray/NBC

Tamika Catchings, a basketball legend and future Hall of Famer, will make her American Ninja Warrior debut tonight on NBC. At 6-foot-1, she will step onto the course as one of the tallest, if not the tallest, women to compete in the competition.

She also appears to be the first former or current WNBA player to seek American Ninja Warrior glory.

Catchings, who will turn 40 on July 21, has found powerful ways to stay busy since her retirement from playing professional basketball. She is currently the vice president of basketball operations for the Indiana Fever, previously held a front-office position with the NBA’s Indiana Pacers and has performed broadcasting duties.

Now, Catchings takes on a new challenge — the American Ninja Warrior Baltimore City Qualifiers. The seed to compete on the show was planted in Catchings three years ago and she spent three months training for it. Nikki Lee of SB Nation’s American Ninja Warrior blog caught up with Catchings at the Baltimore Qualifiers.

Here’s what Catchings had to say about ninja training, how basketball helped her to prepare for the course and why she’s doing this now:


This interview has been edited for conciseness and clarity.

What is your motivation for being on American Ninja Warrior?

Honestly, I’m trying to do something that I’m so scared [of doing]. And I think, for a lot of us, when you’re scared, you don’t try something. So, the opportunity presented itself [and] I got to do something that I probably would have freaked myself out of doing.

Athletes of your level, when they come in here, a lot of them kind of look at this as a fun thing that they’re trying out and they’re just having a good time. You are training.

I’ve been training for about three months. I started doing Rugged Maniac and this will be my third year doing that. And it’s, of course, more like the racing and all that — climbing up walls and stuff. But when I retired [from basketball], it was about finding something that could still give me that adrenaline rush.

What is the key piece of advice a prior ninja has given you about how to handle the competition?

Relax and have fun. You’re not trying to prove something to somebody else. Really, you’re trying to prove something to yourself. And, just take one obstacle at a time.

You’ve competed at some of the highest levels possible. And you’re still feeling nervous about Ninja Warrior?

Well, I play on a team sport. So, in basketball, if I’m not good in a certain skill set, I have a teammate that is, and between the five of us, that’s what makes a great team. I played tennis when I was younger. I did gymnastics when I was super young and I was horrible at it. In individual sports, if you make a mistake, it’s all on you.

Have you experienced any crossover between your basketball skills and ninja, or any crossover from ninja into basketball?

I would say core. I don’t think people understand how big having a strong core helps you in basketball. Balance-wise, and then you go back and forth. On the [ninja] obstacles, you’ve got to have enough strength to go back and forth. In basketball, cutting off the baseline ... in ninja, being able to release off of different steps. And then, mentality. For both of them, you have to have a strong mentality and you have to have confidence.

From my first time training [for ninja], it was really tough. I didn’t want to fall. And we had mats. I wish that they could just put mats in that water. I prefer mats than water.

Why do you want to call yourself an American Ninja Warrior? What does that term mean to you?

When you think of, like, a warrior, I think of a warrior mindset in everything that I do, and just being able to push through. And from having a hearing disability and people telling [me] the things [I] wouldn’t be able to do ... to be able to accomplish something, to be a warrior.

What’s the one thing you want the audience to learn and to remember about you when they watch your run on the show?

Overcoming. [I’m] just somebody that’s overcome a lot. And I think it’s hope. We live in a world where I think hope is something that a lot of people don’t have. [An example of] somebody that can do whatever you put your mind to. Because I literally never thought I would be here — ever. But to be here now, and my heart’s beating fast just to think about it, it’s such a cool opportunity.

You can do whatever you put your mind to. And my name, that I put on my [Ninja Warrior] shirt, is “Dream Catcher” — because I feel any time you set a dream, you can catch it. And you’re the only one that can keep yourself from being able to catch your dreams.

What are your expectations for yourself on the course?

I want to do good. I will be very disappointed if I don’t do good. I want to have fun, yes, but I’m a competitor, too. And I’m a sore loser. I think because I’ve trained the way that I’ve trained I want to see myself do good.

How do you quantify “good”? What’s good to you?

Not falling off the first [obstacle]. Definitely, getting to the second day and then seeing where it goes from there. You can only train so much. And now it’s time to put it to the test to see how well you can do.

What’s better — an Olympic gold medal or pressing the ninja buzzer?

That’s tough! Can I say that that’s just like two totally different things? [laughs] I mean, the gold medal, we’ve got my team and it’s a team effort. The buzzer? When you see it and actually get to press the button, that’s a big deal.

Taller competitors tend to do better on American Ninja Warrior. Will Tamika Catchings’ height, training and skills as an elite athlete advance her to the next round?

American Ninja Warrior airs tonight at 8 p.m. ET on NBC.