This wasn’t easy for me, Indiana.
Believe me. I agonized over this decision. For real.
Because this team, this community, the amazing and passionate Fever fans, everything about these past five years really, all of it….
Has been special.
Indiana has become my home away from home, a place that I truly love.
You welcomed me with open arms back when very few people even knew who I was. And, in so many ways, it was like a dream come true.
Undrafted out of Rutgers, cut by Atlanta, got no run with the Liberty, and then, all of a sudden….
A team actually believes in me?
What an incredible feeling that was.
People had told me over and over again for so long that I should just hang it up and do something else — I almost didn’t believe it was real at first. Coaches who inspired me to reach my full potential? Teammates who were supportive and fun to be around? Fans who were beyond kind and encouraging, and who always showed their love?
It was like, Don’t pinch me.
If this isn’t real, I don’t want to wake up.
For me Indiana was the place where everything became … real.
All the visions I’d had since I was a little girl, all those hopes and dreams? They were playing out, in real life, right before my eyes. And everything about it was just so magical — almost like it was meant to be.
I mean, even just making the team out of training camp that first year … that really was such a turning point for my career. I’ll never forget how difficult it was for me during some of those practices early on — and getting so frustrated that I was right on the edge of breaking down and crying, only to have the legend, Tamika Catchings, pull me aside and tell me I could make it. That she believed in me.
“Don’t let those tears drop!” I remember Catch telling me. “Coach is only riding you because she sees something in you and she wants to know if you can be tough under pressure.”
Hearing that, and at the same time knowing that maybe Catch also saw something in me that led her to show me some love? That meant the world to me.
“Don’t you dare let those tears drop.”
I’ll never forget her saying those words.
And, you know what? I didn’t cry. My eyes stayed dry. And I watched Catch like a hawk after that. I saw how she worked. I learned from the very best. And then, by the following season, the no-name girl who couldn’t find anyone to give her a shot was starting pretty much every damn game and putting in work.
Finally, I had arrived.
I watched Catch like a hawk after that. I saw how she worked. I learned from the very best.- Erica Wheeler
From there, things just kept getting better and better. And the one constant in it all was the support and love that I received from my teammates and coaches and our fans.
They always had my back, in good times and in bad.
Two years ago, when I became the first undrafted player ever to win the All-Star MVP, everyone throughout our entire organization was just so happy for me, so proud. Everyone — and I mean everyone, from the owner on down to the people who help with the locker room — came up to me afterward and told me that I had achieved that honor because of how hard I worked and all of the energy that I put into getting better every single day. You could see the pride on their faces. And it made me feel so good knowing that I had represented on behalf of all those people.
That I had showed out for Indiana.
Then, on the flip side, fast-forward to the following year: First a COVID diagnosis, then the doctors discovered fluid around my heart, and, just like that, there would be no WNBA season for me in 2020.
It turned my whole world upside down.
I’m someone who has been pretty much injury-free my entire career. I’ve never had anyone tell me that I couldn’t play basketball. That I couldn’t do what I love.
And suddenly I was completely shut down.
Heck, I couldn’t even walk fast. The doctors told me I couldn’t do any physical activity for three full months. I went from training and working out every day to, let’s see … what did I do? Ah, right, from that to ... building a closet in my house.
It was agony.
First a COVID diagnosis, then the doctors discovered fluid around my heart, and, just like that, there would be no WNBA season for me in 2020.- Erica Wheeler
But, all the while, I had Fever fans reaching out to me pretty much every day just to lend their support and tell me that they were thinking about me. They sent so much love my way. That outpouring helped me to get through what was one of the most difficult stretches of my life. And at the same time, Catch and the entire coaching staff made me feel appreciated and valued — not just as a player, but as a person. I think all that says a ton about the type of people in Indiana.
So, yeah, making that phone call to Catch last week? Breaking the news to her that I’d be signing with the Sparks? That was probably the hardest phone call I’ve ever had to make.
And, man ... there are so many people who I’m going to miss. So many people who I want to thank and show my appreciation for all they’ve meant to me.
Stephanie and Kelly, I can’t thank you enough for challenging me so much when I arrived in town that first summer. When no one else believed in me, you guys did. And your faith in me resulted in a confidence that completely changed my basketball career.
Thanks to some amazing teammates during the past five years who have turned into forever sisters! And to Pokeeeee, Christi and Jessie ... mannnn, those two years with you guys taught me so much. The time we spent together really helped me come into my own and shaped me into the player that I am today. That second year with you guys changed my life completely! I mean….
From role player to starter to All-Star to All-Star MVP?
Now the whole world knows my story! Thank you for putting me in position to accomplish a goal that I DIDN’T even set that year!
Coach Stanley, April, Steve: I didn’t get to play for you guys, but thank you for always taking the time to reach out and connect with me.
To the Indiana Fever organization, the staff behind the scenes, and the coaches, trainers, and fans: This will always be a home for me, and I thank you all from the bottom of my heart.
And last, but certainly not least … Catch! I can’t thank you enough. You’ve been in my corner since the first day I walked into training camp. You’ve always been honest with me. And always had my back. And even in my most difficult and challenging moments, you made it clear that you cared about me as a person … not just as a player.
I will never forget that as long as I live.
Catch! I can’t thank you enough. You’ve been in my corner since the first day I walked into training camp.- Erica Wheeler
Now that I think about it, there are so many things about my time in Indiana that I’ll never forget. And, more than anything, I’m just so grateful to have been able to spend these past five years getting to know and spend time with so many amazing, inspiring, caring people.
I hope that I will continue to make you all proud in the years to come, and that when you see me on TV or at the arena, maybe you’ll remember all the fun times we had together and will root for me to have a good game.
I hope you’ll understand that this move isn’t about me not wanting to be in Indiana any longer. (I’m gonna miss that place like crazy!) It’s about exploring new opportunities, and seeing what it feels like for me to be out on the West Coast.
I love fashion, and I’m thinking that maybe I can set myself up out there for a career after basketball.
It will be a big change for sure, but it should be fun. A bunch of Sparks players have already gotten in touch, and the coaches out there are hyped to have me. (Nneka: You ready to create one of the most unstoppable pick-and-roll combos in the W?)
Now all I need to do is ship my car out to SoCal and shove as many pairs of sneakers in that thing as possible. I know they like their Chucks out there with the long socks, but I have my own style. And I got something for L.A. for sure on the style tip.
Beyond that, I just want to get to work and show the fans in Los Angeles what I’m all about: hard work, passion, love for the game.
That’s what you’ll be getting, Sparks fans.
And if this match is anything like what we had in Indiana, this is going to be really, really special.