The Players’ Tribune is introducing a new series called The Iso. With so many of us keeping our distance from each other in a variety of ways, we decided to ask some of our favorite athletes to share how they’ve been dealing with life in the Covid-19 world, and how they’re spending their time away from their sport.
“The call will come between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m.”
I had to put it out of my mind — that was my strategy. Of course, when you’re waiting to know whether you’ve achieved something you’ve dreamed of for a lifetime, clearing your mind is easier said than done. And that’s how I found myself that day: anxious, nervous, excited. And quarantined. This is the picture of a potential Naismith Hall of Famer, waiting on her call, in 2020.
What an incredible journey it has been
How many professional athletes get to say they spent their whole careers with one team? I look back on so many players who have bounced around. Some chasing rings. Some chasing contracts. Some looking for the perfect fit for their talents.
With the Indiana Fever, I got it all in one spot. And when I reflect upon all the things that have to fall into place for a player to become a Hall of Famer, I can say that the good fortune of being around great talent, great coaching, a great organization with a great owner, and, of course, great fans makes all the difference in the world. The ability to evolve my game, win a championship, and grow into a leadership role in the stability of one organization like the Fever was so important for me, and, as a result, I can honestly say I was an even better player toward the end of my career than I was at the beginning.
“Tamika, you’re in!”
When the phone finally rang at 3:15 p.m. sharp and I heard those words – “Tamika, I wanted to be the first to welcome you into the 2020 Naismith Hall of Fame!” – my anxiety quickly turned to chills. How can you not get chills, after all. As a young girl, I dreamed about a career in the NBA. I wanted to follow in my father’s footsteps as a professional basketball player, and the league was my destiny. However unlikely it seems now, at the time it was the goal that fueled every aspect of my life.
Now, in one year, I’ve been named to both the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame. I joined absolute legends in this year’s Naismith class, standing alongside players like Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan. Players who have redefined our positions and redefined the very game of basketball. Players who have set the standard for so many years and embodied so many of the characteristics of what it means to be a competitor. Despite spending a lifetime working on my game, sacrificing, doing everything I could do to get the edge and compete at the highest level, it’s still a shock to the system to think it’s real. Maybe it’s still fresh. Maybe it’s a feeling I’ll carry with me for the rest of my life. But at 3:15 p.m. that Friday afternoon, I felt so much gratitude and so much excitement and so much raw emotion. That’s a moment I’ll never forget.
The first Lady Vol in the Hall
Nothing truly prepares you for the jump from the college game to the pros. The speed, the physicality, the wear and tear on the body. When playing basketball becomes your job, the game demands of you another level of physical and mental toughness.
Still, there is no better training camp for the pros than playing at the University of Tennessee for Hall of Fame coach Pat Summitt. The successes of the program are well documented. The rigor was astounding. You were simply expected to expect greatness of yourself and your teammates, and you were nurtured to get there by the greatest mentor and coach women’s basketball has ever known.
Those were lessons I carried with me when I joined the Fever, experiences that prepared me as much as anything for what I would face in the WNBA. Experience is the mother of wisdom, they say, and the opportunity to go head-to-head every day at practice with college basketball’s best players was about the very best way to steel myself for the rigor of being a professional athlete. Chamique Holdsclaw. Semeka Randall. Kara Lawson, Kyra Elzy, Niya Butts and the list goes on. Some of the very best of the best Lady Vols and my teammates at Tennessee.
So as my husband, Parnell, and I watched the Naismith Hall of Fame announcement on ESPN and fielded hundreds of texts and calls from family and friends, I was absolutely floored to find out I was the very first Lady Vols player ever to be inducted. It’s not something I had even considered. So many amazing talents have come through Tennessee, many of whom I had played with, that learning I was the first to join Coach Summitt really caught me off guard as much as anything else.
There is no better training camp for the pros than playing at the University of Tennessee for Hall of Fame coach Pat Summitt.
Staying in the game
They say the hardest thing for a professional athlete is the transition once you hang up your jersey. Here again, I’ve been so blessed to have played for an organization like the Indiana Fever. Our owner, Herb Simon, was instrumental in keeping me in Indianapolis and helping me to leverage my experience as a player, my love of mentorship, and my knowledge of the game into my not-so-new role with the team. As Vice-President of Basketball Operations and General Manager, I’ve been able to direct my love of the game in new ways to help bring our team back to the top of the league.
While this health and economic crisis we’re in has thrown us all a curveball, Coach Marianne Stanley, her staff, and I have been hard at work preparing for tonight’s WNBA draft. There are decisions and then there are DECISIONS! Tonight we will select three amazing ladies with the third, 14th, and 28th picks to join our Fever franchise. I’ve never felt more ready to make this decision than tonight. We’ve been watching some of these players their whole collegiate careers. And, some who were in the midst of having breakout senior years. Such an exciting time, and what a blessing to be able to stay in the game in ways that keep my competitive juices flowing!
The power of doing good
Beyond the game, I am doing everything I can to give back to this incredible city of Indianapolis, a community that has given me so much. My sister, Tauja, and I started our Catch the Stars Foundation in 2004. To date, we have impacted more than 15,000 kids, and just last week we launched our second book, “Shoot for the Stars.” A playbook designed for teens and tweens to get them thinking about their own personal journey as I share my own personal journey and decisions that have helped make me successful on and off the court.
An entrepreneurial spirit
Tea has been an important part of our family since I can remember. I remember the tea parties my sister and I had as children. Never in my wildest dreams did I envision having my own real life tea party. In 2017, I became an entrepreneur and purchased an Indianapolis tea cafe, Tea’s Me Indy. You won’t be surprised, but the competitive fire in me translates well to entrepreneurism. Tea’s Me Indy has been a joy to run, and while the cafe is temporarily closed because of COVID-19, we are still shipping teas and thinking of creative ways to strengthen our brand and our business. We’re working on a virtual speaker series, updates to our business plan and our upcoming subscription box models. So fun!!
Adjusting to a new “normal”
I didn’t realize how important key separations were for me. The normal of straightening up my desk and packing up my backpack to leave my office was important to me. I had a 25-minute car ride to decompress on my way home. Then I would cook dinner and Parnell and I would relax and have family time. The first week of this, I couldn’t find the separation and I just worked, and worked, and worked. When I finally looked up I realized, Oh my Gosh, it’s nine o’clock. I haven’t eaten all day, I haven’t cooked dinner, I haven’t done anything!
I didn’t realize how important key separations were for me.
Now, as I work from home, I have to be intentional about crafting a routine that leaves room for regular life to happen. I wake up and get ready for the day at about 7:30, do my bible study, and then have a moment to relax and fix breakfast before I head to work. I spend most of my day on video calls or team meetings, and I try to set aside time for exercise and mental relaxation as a way to stay focused and centered. The routine is important, but, amazingly, time is still so hard to find when we’re preparing for the draft and the season.
At our best when times are toughest
I’m far more fortunate than most, of course, and the pandemic has crippled so many businesses and ravaged so many families across the world. At Pacers Sports and Entertainment, we have committed hundreds of thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours to being at our very best when times are toughest. We are Investing, Informing, and Inspiring because it is in our DNA, and that starts at the top of the organization. There are so many community organizations around Indiana that are serving our families on the front lines, and their staffs continue working — at great risk to their own health and safety — to keep vulnerable families fed and clothed.
Yet another thing that I’m particularly proud of: This is an opportunity for all of us to band together to give back, spread hope and optimism and help not just Hoosiers, but people across the globe, to access the critical resources they need to make it through. What we say constantly is that we’re #Inthistogether, and that starts with people like us who have a megaphone.