WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama honored the WNBA champion Indiana Fever on Friday, calling the players role models for young athletes — even those on his daughter Sasha’s basketball team.

The team captured its first title last October, defeating the Minnesota Lynx 87-78 and bringing home Indiana’s first basketball title since 1973.

Obama said the Fever’s season was an inspiration for basketball fans everywhere, including his daughter, whose team he sometimes coaches.

He pointed out that the Fever came into the playoffs as underdogs and had lost to the Lynx during the regular season, then rallied to take the championship.

“For her to have wonderful role models like this who work hard and know how to play like a team, are incredibly poised, are competitors but also show good sportsmanship, that’s the kind of models you want for your children,” Obama said.

It was the team’s second trip to the WNBA finals in the history of the franchise.

The Fever lost its first shot at the title in 2009 to the Phoenix Mercury 94-86.

Last year’s championship gave series MVP Tamika Catchings, 33, who scored 25 points during the final game of the season, the only title she was missing on her resume.

“At every single stage of your life as you continue to grow … it’s your dream to win a championship,” said Catchings, who has three Olympic gold medals and a 1998 NCAA championship from her career at the University of Tennessee. “This tops everything you do.”

Obama joked about playing basketball with his “good friend” Catchings.
“I’ve had the pleasure of being on the court, and she took it easy on me,” he said laughing.

Catchings, who was born deaf, also assists first lady Michelle Obama with her anti-obesity campaign. She founded her own organization “Catch the Stars,” which promotes literacy, fitness and mentoring.

Following the remarks, and a ceremonial presentation of an Indiana jersey, hat and basketball to President Obama, the team hosted a clinic for about 40 children on the White House basketball court.

The recognition comes during a tough time for the Fever. Their current record of 1-4 marks their worst start since 2001.

“It’s a disappointing start,” Catchings told reporters afterward. “Right now our backs are against the wall we’ve got a lot of players injured and a lot of players out, but it’s a motivating factor being here and having this opportunity. We have to get refocused.”


Valerie Bonk

Associated Press