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‘It Takes a Journey’: Basketball Legend Tamika Catchings Talks Women’s History Month

In honor of Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day, the Women’s Sports Foundation continues its ‘It Takes a Journey’ series by speaking with basketball legend Tamika Catchings.

One of the greatest basketball players of all time, Tamika Catchings’ record-breaking career included four Olympic gold medals, 10 WNBA All-Star teams, the WNBA Most Valuable Player Award and the first-ever recorded quintuple-double in the sport. She played her entire 15-year WNBA career with the Indiana Fever and is one of only 10 women to have won an NCAA Championship, a WNBA Championship and Olympic gold.

But despite retiring from basketball in 2016, Catchings’ career is just getting started. Since retiring, she has worked for Pacer Sports and Entertainment, first as its Director of Player Programs & Franchise Development and most recently was promoted to the Fever’s VP of Basketball Operations.

WSF caught up with Catchings to discuss transitioning from the court to the front office and helping more women find roles within the sports industry.

WSF: How did you initially get into basketball?

TC: I started playing organized basketball when I was in third grade. My dad played in the NBA for 11 years, so I was born in Stratford, N.J. when he played for the Nets, then he was traded to Milwaukee, played there, played for the Clippers, went overseas, then we came back to the States.

My dad was my first coach for my sister and me. We were on an all-boys team, and that was our introduction to organized basketball. In seventh grade, I set my first goal of being a professional basketball player, to follow in my dad’s footsteps and play in the NBA. Then fast-forward, the WNBA was created my freshman year of college, and my goal changed.

WSF: What drew you to the operations side of basketball upon your retirement?

TC: Going into my last year of playing in 2016, before the season started, I sat down with Kelly Krauskopf, who was the Fever President/COO and Rick Fuson, the President of Pacer Sports and Entertainment. They asked me what I was interested in. I didn’t know. When I came into the WNBA my goal was to be a GM, but I shifted a bit closer to retirement because I really wanted to help players figure out what they wanted to be when they grew up, when they finished playing basketball. I feel like a lot of athletes get lost because they don’t know. You don’t know what you want to do because playing basketball has been our main focus. We don’t take the time out to learn about other things that we could be engaged in. So I did that with the Pacers and the Fever before entering my current role as VP of Basketball Operations for the Fever.

Now, looking at the WNBA President’s job, that’s something that maybe potentially one day I’d be interested in doing. I love where I am now, and everyday take an opportunity to build and learn more about the business side and the executive side of things.

WSF: What are you most looking forward to about your new role?

TC: I’m most looking forward to working with our new President/ COO – Dr. Allison Barber, our Head Coach Pokey Chatman and continuing to build our Indiana Fever brand both on and off the court. We didn’t have the season that we wanted last year, so I’m really looking forward to the rebuilding stage.

WSF: One of the most common questions we hear athletes ask is about transitioning into post-playing careers. How did you manage the transition from playing to working for the team so smoothly?

TC: I think what has helped me is the circle of people who have been with me throughout my career & my transition. They’ve really done a good job of exposing me to and making me try a lot of different things. I would say that’s probably the best part, I’ve had to grow up a little bit.

If you look at my transition, it’s probably very different from the majority of athletes’ transitions because I had been exposed to so many different things which helped me know what I wanted to get involved in.

WSF: What is the biggest challenge you have faced in your post-athletic career?

TC: I was really passionate about coming in and helping our athletes figure out life after basketball and start introducing them to different things. However, as I started working with the players, everyone is on their own journey – in their own timing. I realized that I could be excited and want something for somebody but if they weren’t ready to take the skills and opportunities, then they weren’t ready. I think really being able to shift my mindset as a former player was a challenge. I had to take a step back and realize where everyone was in their own basketball/life journey. That was the biggest challenge for me.

WSF: We have seen a surge of female athletes like yourself who are breaking into the male-dominated industry after their playing careers are over, but we still have a long way to go to achieve gender equity in the space. How do we get more women working in sport?

TC: Being more intentional. Being more focused. I can honestly say just looking at the progression we’ve had at Pacer Sports and Entertainment in the last couple of months, it’s been great.

On the other hand, we as women have to do a better job of elevating and supporting each other. In the role that I’m in now, I would love to hire and get as many young women behind me as I can to learn the game and learn the operations side. I’m still learning too, but to put them in a position where they can succeed. The one thing you cannot fear as a leader is that you train somebody good enough that they’ll take your job.

WSF: March is Women’s History Month. Is there a woman who has inspired or influenced you throughout your career?

TC: My mom. She has been a huge influence on me and my life and the person I am today. Growing up, she was always running around trying to get me, my brother and my sister to different practices and things. Her character has been tested plenty of times but she’s always stayed true to who she is. I feel like she’s always been my role model and has helped guide me through my life.

Want more Women’s History Month content? Check out content with other top women in sport:

Monica Puig, Tennis Olympic Champion

Kendall Coyne Schofield, U.S. Women’s Ice Hockey National Team forward

Danielle Collins, WTA star

Shea Holbrook, Motorsport pioneer