Thursday, September 22, 2011

Tamika Catchings is named WNBA's MVP

Finally, Tamika Catchings has a Most Valuable Player award. Tonight, she resumes pursuit of a more compelling quest: winning a WNBA championship with the Indiana Fever.

“I don’t want us to get sidetracked on me winning MVP,” said Catchings, whose award was announced today by the league. "I don’t want me to get sidetracked.

“If anything, it needs to give us more fire.”

The top-seeded Fever will open the best-of-three Eastern Conference finals against the No. 3-seeded Atlanta Dream at 7 at Conseco Fieldhouse.

The East champion will play the Minnesota Lynx or Phoenix Mercury in the WNBA Finals, which open Oct. 2.

After a decade of coming close, the 32-year-old Catchings was a decisive winner in voting by a media panel. She received 21 first-place votes, followed by centers Tina Charles of Connecticut and Sylvia Fowles of Chicago with six each.

In total points, Catchings had 292, Charles 209 and Fowles 148.

Catchings finished second in voting in 2003, 2009 and 2010, and was third in two other years.

She was rewarded for all-around impact. She finished 10th in the league in scoring (15.5), ninth in rebounds (7.1), 13th in assists (3.5) and fourth in steals (2.03). She has also been honored as Defensive Player of the Year four times.

No MVP had ever finished lower than fourth in scoring or averaged fewer than 17 points.

Catchings acknowledged that she pushed aside thoughts of becoming MVP because she reasoned that she didn’t score enough. She was not going to amend her approach so she could influence the voting.

“That is probably the biggest thing about it, being able to change that trend and being able to change how people look at the MVP,” Catchings said. “Not necessarily looking at the player that scores the most points being the MVP, but the player who makes the biggest overall impact for the team.

“So hopefully, it does start a trend,” she said. “And not just in professional basketball and this arena, but in all arenas.”

Kelly Krauskopf, chief operating officer of the Fever, said she was moved to tears when she learned Catchings had won. It was the decision of Krauskopf and then-coach Nell Fortner to select Catchings with the No. 3 pick of the 2001 WNBA draft.

Catchings has subsequently become the only player in WNBA history with 5,000 points, 2,000 rebounds and 1,000 assists.

Krauskopf said she never gave up hope that media would someday vote for Catchings as MVP. The Fever executive said she reacted emotionally because of how valuable Catchings has been locally with community service and her foundation.

“I know the kind of person she is and what kind of heart she has, and how much she means to this community and this city,” Krauskopf said. “And she does a lot of it on her own, the way she follows up with e-mails to kids she might meet. Just things like that resonate throughout the community.”

“She epitomizes all the things that we talk about with role models that are great professional athletes.”

Krauskopf said it was also a big moment for Pacers Sports & Entertainment. Catchings is the first Indiana MVP in the NBA or WNBA.

The Pacers collected three MVP awards in the former ABA: Mel Daniels in 1969 and 1971, and George McGinnis in 1975. McGinnis shared the award with Julius Erving of the New York Nets.

Catchings said the first person she called to deliver the news was her sister, Tauja. She also told her parents, Harvey and Wanda, and brother, Kenyon.

Catchings conceded others wanted her to be MVP more than she did herself.

“When it comes out, my phone is going to go off the chain, I know that,” she said. “People are going to be so happy.”

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