Tamika Catchings wants to go out like Peyton Manning.
She remembers watching Manning’s last game on Feb. 7, his second Super Bowl title.
They’ve both become the faces of Indianapolis sports franchises during their prime. Now Catchings wants to emulate her NFL counterpart in another way.
She wants to finish on top.
In the midst of her final season, Catchings takes one month’s break from leading the Indiana Fever to try to win a gold medal in her fourth and final Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. The last time Catchings played in the Olympics in 2012, the United States won gold, and the Fever won a WNBA championship.
“That was awesome. I like the way [Peyton] did it,” Catchings said at the Team USA Media Summit in March. “To go out on top, period. That’s a dream I think of any player in any professional sport. You want to go out with a bang.”
Catchings broke into the league with the Indiana Fever in 2001 out of Tennessee. She always knew she wanted to be an Olympian but never knew how long it would last.
Fifteen years, a storied WNBA career and three gold medals later, Catchings is ready to make the trip to Rio de Janeiro.
“I’m so excited I’ve had the opportunity to play with them in what will be my fourth Olympics,” she said. “It’s been a while. It’s been a long time, but the journey has to come to an end at some time.”
Her role? It’s hard to say. With the exception of a few training sessions, Catchings hasn’t been with the team since 2012.
Catchings’ role of late has been leading the Indiana Fever to a 12-12 record in the first part of the season — good enough for third place in the Eastern Conference. She is averaging 13.7 points and 4.5 rebounds in 25 minutes per game this year.
Fever Coach Stephanie White said Catchings looked a little fatigued early in the season but has been smarter about when to stay out of the gym.
“I think part of it is getting her legs back underneath her, and part of it is being able to have a team that’s so balanced it can share the responsibilities,” White said. “A lot of times you’d come to practice and Tamika would already have a sweat two hours before … She’s been more conservative about managing her extra stuff as well.”
Now Catchings has to put the WNBA on hold for a month and transition into her spot as a co-captain for Team USA — an adjustment that players have to learn early on in their pro careers.
“It’s two different teams and systems,” Catchings said. “So you’re trying to learn the plays over there and then come back here. But I think over the years it has gotten easier to be able to go there and come back.”
Catchings isn’t the only Fever player with ties to the Olympics this year.
She has been getting advice from teammate Erica Wheeler, who played in Brazil in 2014-15.
Second-year center Natalie Achonwa will be lacing them up for Team Canada in the Olympics. The United States and Canada are in the same pool, so Catchings and Achonwa will get a chance to square off.
“Typically you like to have Tamika Catchings on your team, but it’ll be a different atmosphere playing against her and playing against the U.S.,” Achonwa added. “It’s been years to come that we’ve built this program [Canada], and now I’m really excited to compete with some of the best in the world.”
Catchings and Team USA are perhaps the biggest favorite of all the American teams in the Olympics. They’ll begin their quest for gold on Aug. 7 against Senegal.
She knows it’s more special this time around. Her family is coming to watch. She wants to go to more of the events this year, so she can take in the full Olympic experience.
But when it comes to the basketball court, Catchings knows this is it — her last chance to go out a winner.
“I think this, knowing it’s my last one and the grand finale, I’m definitely wanting to go out with a bang and giving it everything that I have,” she said. “I feel like the team will be ready; we’ll definitely be prepared. And I’m excited.”
Jake Fox is a Ball State University student and writer for BSU at the Games, a group of 50 journalism students traveling from Muncie, Indiana, to Rio for the Olympic Games. Follow them at bsuatthegames.com, @bsuatthegames on Twitter and Instagram, and BSU at the Games on Facebook.