Excerpted from Catch a Star: Shining Through Adversity to Become a Champion by Tamika Catchings with Ken Petersen. Copyright © 2016. Published by Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group. Used by permission.
It's almost like there's a basketball gene that our parents passed down to their children. The Catchingses had it, big time-my dad playing in the pros with Dr. J and the 76ers; my older sister, Tauja, eventually playing in college and beyond; and my older brother, Kenyon, playing on his high school team until his dreams for the game were cut short by illness.
But more than any of them, I was bound and determined to be a basketball player. Even as a young girl, I knew basketball was going to be my game. And, no, it wasn't that I just had lucky genes. A lot of people have physical ability to play-height and agility-but to play well at a high level requires more. Intensity. Desire. Passion. Focus. Determination. Hard work.
Back then, at the age of nine, I didn't have the physique for the game. Not yet. I was small, but really because of my slouching to "blend in." And not only that, but I couldn't hear very well-I'd been born with moderate to severe hearing loss.
But so what if I was skinny and short and couldn't hear much? What I did have was intensity. I had desire. And I had passion and a willingness to work hard for the game like no one else in my family.
Later in life my dad would say one reason I got so good was because of all those early years playing against Tauja, who was the best talent around. I think that's right. She made me better. She was a year older, taller than me then, and in my eyes just perfect all around.
All those realities just made me compete harder.
We'd play so physical that we'd sometimes send the other flying, with a yell or a shriek, clearly a foul in any refereed game but perfectly acceptable on the court of our driveway arena. We'd scrape an arm or a knee, wipe off a little blood, and start playing again, yelling and taunting and at times screaming at each other.
My dad tells about that day, how the yelling and screaming got to be too much for him. He could tell we were playing each other hard. He knew there'd been some blood. He'd heard one scream too many. He walked out on the porch and yelled, "That's enough!"
We froze in our tracks. He came out to the driveway, confiscated the ball, and took it inside with him.
Frustrated, Tauja stormed up to her room. I knew she'd probably play with her dolls after she cooled down. Dad settled back down inside.
Sometime later, as Dad tells it, he looked up from his paper and realized Tauja had come into the house, but I hadn't. Where's Tamika? he thought.
Looking outside, he saw me still in the driveway. And there I was-playing.
With an imaginary basketball.
He watched me dribble my invisible ball behind my back, through my legs, then toward the basket, where I'd launch myself for an imaginary layup. And I picked up that pretend ball as if it were real and walked it to the back of the driveway. And I'd start all over-dribbling, dodging an imaginary player so I could get free, jump, and shoot my imaginary ball, for an imaginary three-pointer, from beyond an imaginary arc.
I did this again and again. Over and over.
I could hear the game in my head.
What I couldn't hear for real, I could hear in another way. The smack, smack of the ball as it bounced on concrete, the slap of my hand against rubber as I grabbed the ball on the upward bounce, and the oh-so-lovely swish as my imaginary shot arced through the air and slipped cleanly between the rim-nothing but net.
In imagining the game, it was like I could sense other players, where they were on the court, even without hearing a thing. It was as if I could hear one player racing stealthily from behind, rushing in from the side to swipe a steal, and I could feel the vibration of his or her thudding feet just in time to grab the ball from my dribble and swing it away.
As I played within my silence, I could dart and weave through the holes in the defense, racing toward the basket. As I jumped, the imaginary ball rolled off my fingertips against the backboard. And it was as if I could hear it, the sound of it banking against the glass, clanging on the rim-once, twice, and more-before finally, finally, finally falling in.
Yes, basketball was my game.