18 May 2010

Liberty's Pondexter Soaks Up New York

The Wall Street Journal

Cappie Pondexter wants it to be known: she is not the same person she was when she played college ball at Rutgers.

The point guard who took the Madison Square Garden floor Sunday afternoon in her debut with the WNBA's New York Liberty isn't the one who used to be harangued by her college coach for being "too nice" to take over games, or the one who once avoided telling her teammates what to do lest she might be considered arrogant.

Basketball is still clearly first, second and third in Ms. Pondexter's life. She has two WNBA titles and three All-Star appearances to her name. She's won another two titles in the Russian Superleague where she plays in the off-seasons. She's widely considered to be the best guard in the women's game.

But the player who drove and pointed, directed her teammates and scored 22 points during the Liberty's 85-82 win over the Chicago Sky Sunday hasn't just come to the sports world's biggest stage for a chance to show off her newfound assertiveness. The decision is also a practical one: She has ambitions for her life after basketball, too.

Last year, Ms. Pondexter and a friend launched 4 Season Style Management, a New York-based firm that offers private fashion and image coaching and consulting for professional athletes and other high-profile individuals.

Ms. Pondexter is not a household name in the way Los Angeles star Candace Parker is. Moving to New York from the relative obscurity of Phoenix should bring her more endorsement opportunities and a bigger pool of potential leads and clients for her burgeoning company.

"Right now we're just in the beginning stages and we have a lot of work ahead of us," said Ms. Pondexter, who describes her own style as "grunge, edgy, a little tomboyish."

"Look, we can't retire on our earnings in basketball like the men can," said Liberty general manager Carol Blazejowski. "Cappie's very smart. There's no better place for basketball or fashion than New York. She's starting a business and Phoenix is a small market; being here will introduce her to new fans on both the basketball side and the fashion side."

When Ms. Pondexter, fresh off a second championship with the Phoenix Mercury, asked for a trade to New York for her own off-court career prospects, it didn't quite have the gravity of Wayne Gretzky asking for a trade to Los Angeles—in part because his actress wife would have better prospects. But in WNBA circles, where she's a star of the first order, the shock was nearly as severe.

Ms. Pondexter won an Olympic gold medal in 2008 and followed her 2007 WNBA Finals MVP title run with another championship in 2009—and averaged 19.1 points, 4.2 assists and 5.0 rebounds while doing so.

Nike dedicated a shoe to her in 2007. Her photo appeared on a Wheaties box that same year and she now has her own shoe deal with Protégé.

Off the court, Ms. Pondexter, who has a Rutgers degree in sociology and history, is known in the league for having a megawatt smile and the sort of infectious charm that helps teams stay glued together. She is, as Ms. Blazejowski said, "a superstar without a superstar ego."

Ms. Pondexter said her company has worked with a few athletes already, but she knows that her basketball will have to help give her business a push.

Just one week since her return from winning the Russian Superleague title with UMMC Ekaterinburg, coach Anne Donovan said the guard has totally changed the tenor of Liberty practices. To maintain her focus on the game, she lives outside the Liberty's practice facility in Westchester and not in the middle of the city.

Coming back to the Northeast to play again, she said she can see both the progress she's made and the height of the challenges ahead.

"I'm 27," she said. "What you saw at Rutgers is totally different. I do things and I think about things I didn't then. I have to. How long I can play basketball is not in my control."

No comments:

Post a Comment