Last month Indiana Fever superstar Tamika Catchings was nominated for a United Nations Peace Award, an honor that recognizes her commitment to underserved youth through her Catch The Stars foundation. Ben York, an espnW contributor, caught up with Catchings this week to chat about her passion for giving back, her philanthropic legacy, UConn's amazing streak ... and Diana Taurasi.
Ben York: First of all, congratulations on such an amazing offseason so far. Do you ever think about the phenomenal example you are setting for young women on and off the court?
Tamika Catchings: Honestly, Ben, I don't really think about it. It's humbling that young women set out to be like me, but I want them to be better than me. While I may be setting the bar right now, I want these young women to set the bar even higher. I absolutely love the work that we do with our Catch the Stars Foundation.
BY: With all the obligations you have as a professional athlete, how do you stay motivated to give back to the community as much as you do? Does it just come as second nature?
TC: I stay motivated because being around kids is what puts a big smile on my face. Although we never know what will come out of their mouths, the appreciation they show is what makes doing what I do so much fun.
BY: You and I have talked before about how you overcame speech and hearing issues growing up. This might sound silly, but do you ever get tired of talking about your story?
TC: [Laughs] I feel like everyone has heard my story a million times! Still, I don't mind, because I believe that everything that I've been through allows me to relate to everyone on some level. There may be someone out there who hasn't heard my story and is looking for inspiration to get them through tough times. If sharing my story is what it takes to help them, I'll keep telling it.
BY: You were recently nominated for a United Nations Positive Peace Award in the professional athlete category alongside Hines Ward, Dikembe Mutombo, Doug Herbert, Ernie Els and Michael Young -- an amazing honor. You've been recognized for your community involvement before [the above picture was taken at the 2009 Pathfinder Awards], but how special was this particular honor?
TC: The United Nations Peace Award nomination was truly special because it is the inaugural one and the vote spans other countries, not just the work done here in the United States. I was so excited to hear about the nomination and the other people that I was going up against. It's an honor and blessing to be in the same category as the amazing Dikembe Mutombo.
BY: What do you think of the following statement: Tamika Catchings should be remembered for her work in the community as much as for her play on the court.
TC: I love it! To be honest, I'd rather be remembered more for my work off the court. I think it's awesome and humbling that I have been able to accomplish so many things on the court, but the work in the community is what changes lives and what will make a difference in our future.
BY: And basketball, I assume, will always hold a special place in your heart because it has provided you with the means to do so.
TC: Exactly. It is definitely a blessing that basketball is the platform that has allowed me to reach out and do my work in the community. I certainly will never take that for granted.
BY: We're often hearing about professional athletes behaving badly and about female athletes being objectified or belittled. How do those realities impact the way you conduct yourself?
TC:It has been very important for me to maintain a high level of integrity and character. Not just as a woman, an athlete, et cetera, but also because I hope to have children one day, and I want to lead by example. It takes time to build your image and your brand as a person but only takes one wrong word or expression for all of that to come falling down.
BY: How far have women's sports and the WNBA specifically progressed, and where would you like to see the league go from here?
TC: I feel like women's sports and the WNBA have come a long way from where we started. In particular with women's basketball, we are the longest running women's professional sports league. While we still have a long way to go, the progress we've made should be highlighted and recognized. There are more young girls playing basketball than ever before and the opportunities presented to them will allow them to truly reach their dreams.
BY: Speaking of advancements and milestones, what did you think of UConn's streak of 90 straight wins?
TC: Absolutely awesome. I was so excited for the team, especially Maya [Moore] and coach [Geno] Auriemma. After having the opportunity to be around them during the World Championships last year, it was such a fun streak to watch.
BY: Lastly, what are your thoughts on news that Diana Taurasi tested positive for a banned stimulant in Turkey?
TC: I believe that if Diana Taurasi said she didn't take it, then she didn't take it.