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Life after the WNBA: Hall of Famer is using tea to make change

WNBA star Tamika Catchings took over a tea shop in Indianapolis in 2017, and she's been working to revitalize the area around the shop ever since.
Posted at 1:07 PM, May 26, 2023

One cup at a time, four-time Olympic Gold Medalist and former WNBA star Tamika Catchings is pouring into an Indianapolis community.

"There's not a coffee shop between the north side to downtown, and most of them are close to the downtown, definitely not in this area," said Catchings.

She took over the first Teas Me Cafe in 2017, expanding over the years with two more shops, strategically choosing the locations.

"Down there you can get a $30,000 home all the way to this pocket on Meridian, million-dollar home, and everything in between ... but the kids that come to this park don't come from that quarter over there ... 75% that come are just looking for a safe place to come," Catchings began.

"Being a Black-owned business in the middle of a community that is predominantly African American, the kids are now like 'You own this?' I'm like, 'Yeah!' because this is something that they can do," she told Scripps News.

Catchings says throughout her adolescence, she met people who pushed her toward her dreams. Her goal now is to do the same for others.

Through her Catch the Stars Foundation, she offers literacy classes and fitness camps to area youth and has given away $750,000 in scholarships.

She's also working to revitalize the area around the tea shop, offering community events like yoga in the park.

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Diagnosed with hearing loss at the age of 3, she credits her parents and people like Tennessee Lady Volunteers Coach Pat Summitt for instilling lifelong lessons she hopes to pass to others.

"We're not only going to be great in the classroom, we're going to be great in the community. We're going to be great on the court. And ultimately, when you leave, I want you guys to be great people," she said, recalling Summitt's modus operandi.

It's a mantra that took her from the court all the way to her role as vice president of operations and general manager of the WNBA's Indiana Fever — a position that ultimately led to internal conflict and resignation.

"What I learned is, I'm not that person that can sit here and have a conversation and say, 'You know what? You're not going to make the team this year' and crushing other people's dream when I'm the one that has always been building people's dreams," she said candidly.

She also learned the challenges of creating equitable opportunities for players and the need for more promotional and advertising revenue, saying things have gotten better but also noting former Olympic teammate Brittney Griner's arrest while playing in Russia has expedited the conversation.

"What happened to BG (Brittney Griner) and all of that — yes, it is one of those things like, OK, maybe we need to speed this up and try to figure out where are some areas that we can look at that our young women can make more money?" noted Catchings.

Brittney Griner on the basketball court

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Griner's return has also galvanized a big fan base, creating a new normal for herself and the game.

SCRIPPS NEWS' AMBER STRONG: From the mentality you played with? Is she (Griner) ready for this year?

TAMIKA CATCHINGS: Will she have her greatest year? Who knows. Only she can write the story for that. But will she come out and be great and be a great teammate and everything that she's had to face and be a great spokesperson for trying to make sure that all Americans that are stuck in any jail overseas have the right to be at home? Will she be a great advocate for that? Yes.

Griner's return comes on the heels of the most-watched WNBA season in recent years, a new partnership for the league with ION TV and the monetary and on-court successes of collegiate athletes, like Angel Reese.

STRONG: Is this the year for women in basketball?

CATCHINGS: Is this the year? Every year is the year for women in basketball. You're seeing the trajectory of more and more people coming on board and realizing we don't need to be compared to the NBA. With the WNBA and what these college young women are building from the college game to the WNBA game is phenomenal.

While the WNBA is never too far away, these days Catchings' eyes are set on her Indianapolis neighborhood.

She's working with the city to add a new football field and multi-generational gym by 2024, work she says she'll continue as long as the people and youth there need her.

"I got so much life to live and give," she said. "If we can make an impact, it's not so much about us, but about the next generation that has been touched by the things that you've done."

ION TV and Scripps News are both owned by the E.W. Scripps Company.