By Ross Forman
After a heartbreaking loss a few years ago at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., Cappie Pondexter was in no rush to leave the arena. She was ticked, to put it mildly, and stayed in the locker room for well over an hour after the game ended.
A young female fan, meanwhile, waited for the superstar athlete’s autograph. But when Pondexter appeared to be gone, the youngster started to cry.
Then she spotted Pondexter, and her outlook quickly changed to smiles.
“She was so happy when I gave her an autograph,” said Pondexter, noting the interaction, even years later, was one of her most memorable autograph moments. “That was an overwhelming experience, especially because when I was growing up, I didn’t have that WNBA star to look up to. That makes it extra special and why I don’t take anything for granted.”
Pondexter is one of the most accomplished, decorated women’s basketball players. A Chicago native who attended Rutgers University, she won a gold medal for the U.S. at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, is a two-time WNBA champion and six-time WNBA All-Star.
While in high school, Pondexter got a motivational tattoo of the WNBA with the words “The Future” inscribed on her right bicep.
She certainly has lived up to her prediction.
Pondexter was selected second overall in the 2006 WNBA Draft by the Phoenix Mercury and had an All-Star season as a rookie.
In 2007, she played a key role in the Mercury’s championship run and was named the 2007 WNBA Finals Most Valuable Player after averaging 22 points per game.
She also was a WNBA champion in 2009 with the Mercury.
In 2011, while playing for the New York Liberty, Pondexter was voted by fans as one of the Top 15 players in the 15-year history of the WNBA.
Pondexter joined the Chicago Sky for the 2015 season.
“Bringing in Cappie is great; she is an experienced veteran, something really special to have,” said Sky superstar Elena Delle Donne. “From day one, she’s already made an impact, and I think that’s going to be crucial, getting us to that next step.”
The Sky, after all, is looking to get just one step further this season.
They got hot last season at just the right time – during the playoffs – leading to shocking series victories over the top-seeded Atlanta Dream and then the Indiana Fever. But the fire burning for the 2014 Chicago Sky was quickly extinguished – in a dominant, best-of-five series sweep of the WNBA Finals by the Phoenix Mercury.
“She brings years (of experience), but also, she brings championship medals,” Sky coach Pokey Chatman said of Pondexter. “She’s played with all of the (great) players, and I think that helps tremendously.”
Pondexter has averaged 18.5 points per career in her nine WNBA seasons, and he has appeared in 30 playoff games and averaged 21.1 points in those games.
“I’m excited; it feels amazing,” to join the Sky, Poindexter said at the beginning of the season. “I think we can be great. Sure, that’s easier said than done, but I think if we challenge ourselves each and every practice, the games will come naturally.”
Born in California, Pondexter attended John Marshall High School in Chicago and was a starter during all four years. She was named the 2001 Illinois Player of the Year by Gatorade and USA Today. Pondexter also became the first player in her state to be twice named Illinois’ Miss Basketball – in 2000 and 2001.
She was the 2003 Big East Rookie of the Year at Rutgers and the 2006 Big East Player of the Year award-winner. Plus, she was the first player in Big East history to earn a spot on the All-Big East first-team all four years. She competed in four NCAA Tournaments and was a part of the team that won the 2005 and 2006 Big East Conference titles.
Pondexter’s illustrious career also has seen her hoop overseas and, of course, on the worldwide stage, er, court
“I have had a lot of success; it’s been exciting. And now I want to finish off my career in the right way,” Pondexter said. “Being in Chicago, playing for Pokey, and alongside talented teammates, I’m excited; I really am.”
Pondexter said winning the gold medal in 2008 in Beijing was her career highlight, naturally.
The Olympics, she said, “is the highest you can go as an athlete — being able to represent your country. And hearing the National Anthem, standing on that platform, with the gold medal around your neck … I actually cried.
“It’s a feeling that you can’t explain.”
She added, “Our goal was to be No. 1 in the world, and we accomplished that. We had that mindset from the beginning on through that gold medal game. It never gets old talking about that memory.”
Pondexter has been playing for USA Basketball teams since age 15.
“I’ve taken all the right steps to get to that National team, and hopefully if I can experience that once again in Rio in 2016, that’d be a great way to cap off my USA Basketball career,” she said.
Pondexter said 2009 WNBA Championship also was quite memorable.
“We were facing a tough Indiana team that was hungry. It didn’t seem like we were going to be able to pull it off, but we did … and won the championship,” she said.
“You can talk about my [basketball] resume all day, or anyone’s, but at the end of the day, it’s the work that we put in. And that’s my challenge to this team.
“Playing with Diana Taurasi certainly helped, impacted my career; she taught me a lot, and I want to share that with the Sky players because I think we have the potential to be national champions — and that’s very exciting unto itself. I want it again, and I really think the pieces are here to do it.”
Pondexter added: “Being able to come back home, to finish my career, and hopefully win the championship for the city, would be great. I’m excited – about the team, the coaching staff, and my teammates.”
More Cappie Pondexter:
- On her tattoos: One of her most meaningful tattoos is on her back of her grandmother. “She died a few years ago and was really close to me; she taught me a lot while growing up. That’s probably the one that I cherish the most.”
- If she could have the ability of another athlete, it would be: LeBron James’ athleticism. “The way he runs the floor and the way he can jump. He’s crazy athletic,” she said.
- On the Chicago Sky’s run for the 2014 WNBA Championship: Poindexter said she “wasn’t shocked at all” that the Sky advanced to the Finals last season. “When you have a taste of what winning feels like, it’s something that you don’t forget, regardless of the size of the role that you played. The team has had that taste, and now they want to feel what it’s like (to win the Finals). I understand (that feeling) and want to do it again.”
- On fan mail: She said she annually receives “quite a bit.” Pondexter said she tries her best to answer it, “But sometimes that’s hard to do, especially during the season.”
- On collecting: She was a collector when younger, mostly of basketball cards. “I had like five overflowing binders, with the plastic pages (filled with cards),” she said. Her mom now has those cards, including relics of Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Kevin Garnett and others.
- Prized autographs in her collection: Michael Jordan and Walter Payton.
- More memorabilia: Pondexter has collected her jerseys over the years, plus jerseys of friends and game-worn sneakers. She also has a Ray Rice-worn jersey.
- On autographs: “I think it’s special when fans ask for autographs. Sure, there are times when we are in a rush, or not in the mood, but I like to give back, and signing autographs is one of the ways that I try to give back.”
Ross Forman is a freelance contributor to SCD. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.