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INDIANAPOLIS — The moon-shaped float members of the WNBA champion Indiana Fever were to board 90 minutes earlier found itself parked near the west entrance of Bankers Life Fieldhouse early Tuesday afternoon.
The team’s three eldest players, Tamika Catchings, Katie Douglas and Tammy Sutton-Brown, made their way to its highest point, Douglas moving more deliberately than the others due to a sprained left ankle that kept her out of the finals. Teammates and coaches joined them.
Spectators crowded in front of the float and jostled for position along Pennsylvania Avenue, many holding cellphone cameras aloft in an effort to forever freeze this wonderful moment in time.
With Douglas, 33, the Fever’s lone Indianapolis native, holding the championship trophy, players exchanged friendly dialogue with fans assembled below. A male voice from the throng yelled, “Congratulations, Fever,” which drew an immediate and heartfelt “Thank-you” from a beaming Sutton-Brown.
What was scheduled to be a victory parade from Monument Circle to the fieldhouse never materialized because of late-morning showers. Instead, the Fever moved the party indoors with about 3,000 fans becoming one ear-splitting mass inside the building’s pavilion.
Forty minutes before the rescheduled 12:30 p.m. start, the atmosphere was electric. Fans and local dignitaries, including Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard, began to gather. Indiana coach Lin Dunn and her players kept to the side on the pavilion’s higher level. Occasionally they came into view to flash pictures of their own, a roar from the crowd heard in every instance.
Master of ceremonies Chris Denari, radio voice for Fever broadcasts, told those congregated, “We’re not letting the rain dampen this at all. Everybody get amped up, so we can celebrate the 2012 WNBA championship.”
The minutes moved slowly. Fever players, every one wearing a white championship T-shirt, granted interviews and posed for photographs. Players snapped shots of each other. Some of the pictures were silly, but all were highlighted by the smiles of champions.
Douglas couldn’t wait for the rally to begin. This is her city, her people. And even though she won a national championship at Purdue University her sophomore season 13 years earlier, what she was witnessing — and hearing — awed even her.
“This is my town, and that’s why it’s so special to me. My teammates understand that,” Douglas said. “It’s just been an amazing ride.”
Standing no more than a bounce pass away, Catchings’ father, Harvey, held 2-year-old Kolton, the second-youngest of his nine grandchildren. Still imposing at 61, the 6-foot-9 Catchings played for four franchises in a 10-year NBA career (1974-85). He, too, seemed overwhelmed at what was transpiring in front of him, although Catchings was greatly appreciative of the love central Indiana has shown his daughter for all these years.
“Everyone that I talk to says they love Tamika. The greatest honor you can get as a parent is to have people love her,” he said. “The main thing is that Tamika is very genuine. If there’s something she can’t do, she’ll tell you up front.”
In the eyes of Fever fans, there is nothing Tamika Catchings can’t do. The Most Valuable Player of the WNBA Finals would get an opportunity to express gratitude, but it would have to wait.
The prerequisite buildup had to first take place, which is why a marching band and the Fever’s Inferno dance squad performed first.
Finally, Denari announced, “And without further ado, the 2012 Indiana Fever.”
Some players waved; starting point guard Brianna January videotaped the reaction as she walked. Everyone smiled.
“We had to make adjustments today because of the rain. This team has been making adjustments all year,” Denari shouted, his final few words all but drowned out by the crowd’s roar.
Taking the microphone, Ballard, also decked out in one of the commemorative shirts, said, “This is a very special day for the city of Indianapolis. Sunday night was pretty loud, and the team plays with so much pride. They all do.”
U.S. Rep. Andre Carson, D-Ind., added, “I said during the Super Bowl that Indianapolis is the best-kept secret in sports. Well, the secret is out.”
Then it was Fever general manager Kelly Krauskopf’s turn.
“How about it, Indiana?” she yelled to the crowd. “Today is about you guys. The city of Indianapolis. The state of Indiana. It all starts with Herb Simon.”
Owner of the Indiana Pacers and the Fever since the latter’s inception 13 years ago, Simon stood and waved to the crowd before extending an arm in the direction of the team itself so to pay the franchise’s players and coaches the appropriate respect.
Then it was Dunn’s turn. The coach’s Tennessee twang came into play immediately as she let out one massive, “Ooooooh” while raising her left index finger.
The crowd raised the decibel count even higher, but Dunn wasn’t finished.
“Today we want to thank all of you. Thank you, thank you, thank you,” said Dunn, who proceeded to introduce her players and assistant coaches individually, the second-to-last being Douglas, a product of Perry Meridian High School. “Let’s see . . . who have I forgot.”
It’s here the crowd began to chant, “MVP ... MVP ... MVP.”
Catchings, smiling widely with both index fingers extended, then added her comments.
“Coming here back in 2001, I didn’t know what the future held for me,” said Catchings, the three-time Olympic gold medalist who can now add a WNBA title to her staggeringly impressive basketball resume. “This has been a journey like no other.”
The Fever then posed for two photographs, one with a large red banner announcing them as champions.
Then, to the delight of everyone, more were taken with Tuesday’s crowd as the background.
Now, as before, behind them all the way.
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