Cappie Pondexter dreams big, plays big
So, Cappie, how about that WNBA tattoo?
Cappie Pondexter laughs, then recounts how the league logo ended up inked on her right arm.
The New York Liberty guard was a 17-year-old high school basketball star in her hometown of Chicago, hanging out with her brother Ronald on a hot summer day.
"We were looking through a Slam magazine, and Ronald shows me the WNBA logo and says, 'This is cool. You should get this tattoo with The Future over it,'" Pondexter said. "You know how it is when you are 17. Everybody wants to get a tattoo. They think they are cool. ... I did it the next day."
More than a decade later, she's living the aspiration she has worn ever since.
"For me, it was motivation," Pondexter said. "I was a 17-year-old kid with a WNBA tattoo, and who knows what's going to happen? I hadn't even decided on what college I was going to yet."
After all this time, it seems more prescient than presumptuous.
"It's a good thing I'm actually living it," Pondexter said.
Pondexter's style has been as bold as her dreams. She is the owner of one of the league's brashest games, steely in the face of pressure from the perimeter, able to knock down big shots, fearless as she drives into the lane after her trademark crossover dribble. She's driven, competitive and athletic the way the best always are.
In her sixth year in the league, Pondexter, 28, was voted among the league's top 15 all-time players earlier this season. She is a four-time All-Star, a two-time WNBA champion -- winning with Phoenix in 2007 and 2009 -- and one of the league's most exciting individual talents.
She's leading the New York Liberty into the WNBA playoffs as the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference. They play at No. 1 seed Indiana on Thursday.
"She's the best one-on-one player in the league," said Anne Donovan, the former Liberty coach now at Seton Hall.
"With the game on the line, I can't think of anybody better," said Indiana coach Lin Dunn.
Pondexter grew up playing basketball on the Chicago playgrounds, trying to keep up with her brother, idolizing Michael Jordan and spending time with her mother and grandmother, who took her to church and shielded her from the rough realities of the neighborhood.
"I was so involved in basketball, and it helped me to distance myself from all the negative things," Pondexter said. "My mom raised her kids by herself, and we never wanted for anything. I went to a Christian school. I grew up in a tough part of Chicago, and it made me tough as a basketball player."
Not that there haven't been hard lessons. Pondexter went to Rutgers to play for demanding coach C. Vivian Stringer and sat out her freshman season because of academic struggles. She lost a close cousin to violence in Chicago that same year, grieving far from home.
More academic issues caused Pondexter to miss the first part of her sophomore season. But she found her legs, and by the time she was a fifth-year senior, she was one of the country's best players, finishing second in the national player of the year race to Seimone Augustus.
Pondexter was drafted No. 2 overall by the Phoenix Mercury in 2006. Her explosive game complemented Diana Taurasi's, and the Mercury won titles in 2007 and 2009.
"As great as Diana is, I think she was the key link to those championships," Dunn said of Pondexter.
Early in her pro career, Pondexter was a reluctant interview subject, playing things close to the vest. But she's become more open and expressive through the years.
It hasn't always been a positive experience.
Last spring, Pondexter posted some controversial comments on Twitter about the tragic Japanese earthquake and tsunami: "What if God was tired of the way they treated their own people in there own country! Idk guys he makes no mistakes."
She later tweeted: "u just never knw! They did pearl harbor so u can't expect anything less."
Many viewed her tweets as insensitive. She was the subject of unflattering columns in the New York sports pages and called in by the New York Liberty to discuss the matter.
Pondexter apologized for her comments and was not suspended by the WNBA or the Liberty. But she was forced to sit out the USA Basketball national team camp in Las Vegas in May as a consequence. She is expected to return to Team USA in the fall and to be a contender for a spot on the 2012 Olympic team.
"You want to grow from every situation," Pondexter said. "Twitter can't express everything you are feeling. It can be perceived this way or that way. The main thing that I learned is that when you have an opinion, and it's publicly disturbing, you can't express it. You have to leave it to yourself."
At the end of the 2009 season, Pondexter said she wanted a new challenge, a team that belonged to her. She asked to be traded to New York to be closer to the fashion consulting business she was starting.
"I'm into fashion, and New York was the best place for me to be outside of basketball," Pondexter said. "I have already won two championships, and I wanted to do something different."
Her company, 4 Season Style Management, celebrated its first anniversary this week.
"During the season, I'm just trying to get the name out there so that people realize we are around," she said. "My business partner is more on hand than I am. But I kind of help bring awareness to it."
Pondexter is featured in high-fashion photos on the company's website, as is Los Angeles Sparks forward Ebony Hoffman.
"We know it's not going to happen for us overnight, but we are building a clientele," Pondexter said.
In the meantime, it's time for playoff basketball. Liberty coach John Whisenant coached against Pondexter when he was in Sacramento. Now he's given her the keys in New York.
Whisenant said Pondexter's expectations are high for her teammates and even higher for herself.
"Sometimes I just have to tell her, 'Cappie, our best option is you. Hit the open shot,'" Whisenant said. "She wants to win, and she lets everyone around her know that. Not one of those players, not even the rookies trying to win a job, works any harder than she does. She has great effort and intensity, and those go beyond her skills. They are the reason she has those skills."
Pondexter has started every game of her WNBA career. She has a career scoring average of 19.4 points per game, ranking fourth all time.
She said one of the things she works on most is refusing to be satisfied with what she's already accomplished.
"I want to continue to challenge myself," Pondexter said. "There's a lot of talent coming into the league now, and I'm getting older. I definitely have to keep working.
"When you are a rookie, you are just so excited to be living out your dream. When you have years under your belt, it's different. But I'm still motivated to be the best player I can be. I know what it feels like to win a title. I want to do it again."