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Tamika Catching Will Retire from the WNBA as the Greatest Ever, and She's Barely Considered What That Means

Tamika Catchings will play in her final WNBA game on Sunday and retire as the greatest in the game.
RVR Photos-USA TODAY Sports

You are running out of time to watch the greatest basketball player in WNBA history, Tamika Catchings.

Yes, she is the greatest. No, this should not be a particularly controversial statement. Her final regular season game is this Sunday, against the Dallas Wings, at 4 PM ET on ESPN2. She'll be honored, of course, but it isn't easy to get Catchings herself to wade through all the numbers.

"Not really," Catchings said when asked Friday whether she's considered the statistical totals she has compiled in the WNBA. "There's been so much going on. Coming into this year, we had so many things accomplish as a team. Now after this push to be making the playoffs, we're there, but playing for position. After the Olympic break, we had 10 games left. And so my focus has been elsewhere preparing for these games."


That strategy has worked. Catchings and the Fever already are in the playoffs again, something her Fever have done every single season she has been in the league, dating back to 2002. To put that in perspective, the last time the WNBA held a playoffs without Catchings, Breanna Stewart was seven years old.

Catchings is one of those players frequently described as possessing all the intangibles, but one needn't rely on the ephemeral to appreciate exactly what she has accomplished. Her career win shares total is 92.5. No other player comes close. Lauren Jackson is second, at 72.97, which makes Catchings is 27 percent higher than the second-best player in league history. Only Tina Thompson, at 60.52, is above 60.

Catchings managed to be so valuable not through a single skill or two, but by maximizing virtually everything she does on the court. She leads the WNBA all-time in offensive and defensive win shares—with 13 seasons in the top ten in defensive rating and 16 in the top ten in player efficiency rating, including 2016, a season in which she turned 37.

Just 6 feet tall, she ranks 12th all-time in blocks, and with three more rebounds, will pass Lisa Leslie for tops all-time in rebounding. And Catchings has done all of not merely by sticking around for so long, but by consistently playing at an elite level. To wit, her two seasons in the top ten in rebounding percentage came in 2002 … and 2015.

"My job is to compete, but we understand that this is someone who is equivalent to Kobe Bryant retiring," Dallas Wings guard Skylar Diggins, whose team faces Catchings on Sunday, said on Friday. "Everyone talks about Catch, and it's well-deserved."

Those who play, those who have seen, know. Indiana Pacers forward Paul George, who bought 5,000 tickets for Sunday's game to distribute to the general public so more people can see Catchings play, switched uniform numbers, from 24 to 13, so that there will be only one 24 in Indiana: Tamika Catchings.

But for Catchings, perhaps in part because of the gap in coverage and fame between the NBA and WNBA, realizing the magnitude of it all isn't something that intrudes into her day-to-day life.

"Sometimes I go out and I'm just out—and I get reactions from people," Catchings said, "I don't realize I'm quote-unquote a superstar, whatever that means. But it allows me to go out and live a fuller life. I can make more friends."