NEW YORK — Tamika Catchings and Swin Cash talked while they were on the players’ union executive committee about life after basketball.
Both wanted to stay involved in the game that they had already given so much to as players, but weren’t sure how with limited opportunities available beyond coaching. While it is commonplace for NBA franchises to hire former players in a variety of roles, it was extremely rare in the WNBA outside of coaching or being a general manager.
Isiah Thomas and the New York Liberty already had brought back Teresa Weatherspoon in 2015 as a director of player development, and he was ready to make a pitch to Cash to stay with the team as a director of franchise development.
“There was a hard push from him,” Cash recalled. “He was explaining to me how important it was to have former players who have the skillset that I have to make an impact in the front office, not just on the basketball side.”
Just around the same time, the Indiana Fever were chatting with Catchings about a similar role.
“We definitely knew we wanted to keep her in Indiana in some capacity, and she has given so much to the franchise on and off the court,” said Fever president Kelly Krauskopf.
So both Cash and Catchings were hired as directors of franchise development before the WNBA season.
“It really is great that they were willing to bring us back,” Catchings said. “You learn a lot about different things while working on the other side of the game.”
Cash is busier now than she was as a player. While she would just have to focus on the next game or practice while she was playing, Cash now runs from meeting to meeting in her new role. It could be a marketing meeting, or planning a community event or just being at practice and offering encouraging words to the current team.
“I have input on a lot of different things on the table and bring a player’s perspective,” said Cash, who is also seven months pregnant.
They weren’t the only former players bumped into front offices this season. Erin Phillips holds the same position in Dallas, and Penny Taylor is the director of player development for Phoenix.
“When you are mentioned in the same sentence as Cash, Catchings and Taylor, that’s quite the group to be in,” Phillips said on Friday while her team was in New York to play the Liberty. “It’s great to stay involved with the game that I love so much.”
The four hires this season weren’t lost on WNBA President Lisa Borders.
“It is wonderful to see that players who have been so impactful on the game’s growth and the league’s endurance remain deeply connected to the WNBA as they transition to their next career phase,” she said. “The same passion, perseverance and purpose that fueled their success on the court will serve them well in their front-office roles.”
WNBA teams aren’t the only places that former players have found employment. Jayne Appel-Marinelli, who retired after last season, works at the union as associate director of player relations.
Cash hopes that this group, as well as Weatherspoon, can blaze a trail for other teams to create new positions for former players.
“This was something we thought was needed when we were in the union,” Cash said. “We kept looking around and saw players coaching, but never saw that other side. Never saw it on the league level or in front office positions. It’s great now that we have a voice and can give input and advice. It really just takes a few players getting in. The rest of the teams have the opportunity to follow.”
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