If ever there were a Mount Rushmore of the WNBA, the Sky’s veteran baller would be among those considered for the monument.
Cappie Pondexter’s 2-for-6 performance on August 4 is one of the most important contributions to her legacy. The Sky guard made two field goals and moved to fourth all-time for field goals made and cracked the top-five for two-point field goals made. Combined with her fourth place ranking in career points, she is the only player currently in the top-five for all three categories.
While there will always be debates among who the true G.O.A.T. is, Pondexter is without a doubt in the conversation after being named one of the top-15 players in WNBA history during the 2011 All-Star Game. Beyond the stats, Pondexter is a two-time WNBA champion, seven-time WNBA All-Star, 2008 United States Olympic gold medal winner and a former WNBA Finals MVP in 2007.
The Chicago native has clawed her way into the top-5 of these categories while playing only the 25th most games in WNBA history. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Pondexter has made a severe impact in a short amount of time. At Rutgers, she finished 2nd in scoring and field goals in school history without being in the top-12 for games played.
Fellow Rutgers alumnus, and current Sky guard Kahleah Copper, was quick to put Cappie among the greats of the WNBA. Pondexter, however, was more hesitant, going with Lisa Leslie, Sheryl Swoops, Cynthia Cooper and Diana Taurasi for her hypothetical Mount Rushmore.
“I’m just looking at who paved the way before me,” Pondexter said. “Of course I want myself on there, but at the end of the day I have to continue breaking records and keep climbing [in the record books]. My resume speaks for itself.”
Rutgers State of Mind
The duo of Pondexter and Copper are currently second and third in Rutgers career scoring history and are second and fifth, respectively, in career field goals. Being alumni of the same school doesn’t give them any telepathic bond, but playing for the same coach, C. Vivian Stringer, gives them the same pedigree.
“We didn’t play at Rutgers together, but we played for the same coach, so that’s special,” Copper said.
Stringer is one of the most prestigious coaches in women’s basketball history. The Basketball Hall of Fame and Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame member is sixth in wins among college coaches for men’s and women’s basketball. Of those 980 wins, 457 have come at Rutgers and 192 came with either Pondexter or Copper on the roster.
Pondexter had an illustrious college career before becoming one of the most recognizable players in the pros. She was a two-time BIG EAST regular season champion and made the NCAA tournament in all four of her playing years, including an Elite Eight appearance in 2005 in which she was named the Philadelphia Region’s Most Outstanding Player after leading the entire NCAA tournament with 24.0 points per game.
Coming off that 2005 season, Pondexter was named a Naismith National Player of the Year finalist for the second of three consecutive years and was named an Associate Press All-American honorable mention for the second time. She followed her Elite Eight appearance up with a Sweet Sixteen appearance in 2006 in a season in which she was named the BIG EAST unanimous Player of the Year, Kodak All-American, and became the first four-time All-BIG EAST first team selection in conference history. The fifth-year guard also recorded one of just five 40-point games in school history on January 11, 2006 at South Florida.
With Age Comes Responsibility
Pondexter’s legacy extends beyond her scoring touch. The 11-year pro is also 5th in assists, 6th in free throws made, 11th in three-point field goals, 15th in minutes played, 25th for games played and knocking on the door of the top-25 for steals.
This has all come to Pondexter with increasing years and experience in the game. So too has come being the most experienced player on the team, a sensation Pondexter hasn’t had before. For her, it’s about selflessness and patience to let others grow around her.
“I’ve never been the oldest in a leadership role,” Pondexter said. “In Phoenix with [Diana Taurasi], we worked hand-in-hand. I did that in New York with Taj [McWilliams-Franklin].”
It’s not an uncomfortable role, however. Pondexter said she doesn’t feel added pressure to be a leader on a team that continues to get younger via trades. But she feels that she can instill a different sense of drive in the younger generation.
“The generation of kids growing up now are a little different than when I came in and my generation,” Pondexter said. “You didn’t have to teach us to work hard or run the lanes. You didn’t have to ask us more than once. It was something we naturally did because we enjoy playing the game.”
Cappie credits this urgency to play for the love of the game to the fact that the WNBA being a different entity when she broke into the league, saying they didn’t know if it was going to stick around for the long haul but they didn’t care and played the game out of the love they had for it.
But the urgency to build the WNBA up can’t stop, according to Pondexter. She says the creation of the Big 3 league and Global Mixed Gender Basketball, a co-ed basketball league created by Master P, means WNBA players need to work harder to build the game and grow support for the league.
“We have to keep working to make our league better and keep improving it,” Pondexter said. “Every day, as much as I can, I try to show them by example, that working hard is what matters at the end of the day.”
The leadership comes off the court as well. Copper said she was without a car one day and the veteran guard threw her the keys to her car and said she would find another way home. Selflessness, personified.
When It’s All Said and Done
Eleven years is a long time, for any athlete, to compete – and compete at such an accelerated level. Pondexter attributes her longevity to staying healthy and never having major injuries. But her playing career wont be around forever, and Pondexter said when it’s done, she’ll move on from the sport she’s committed so much to.
“When I’m done, and retire officially. I’m not going to be a coach or any of that,” Pondexter said. “My passion lies somewhere else.”
That somewhere else could be fashion. Pondexter considers herself ahead of the curve of NBA, NFL and NHL players showing their style in postgame press conferences and their attire when arriving for games.
“I discovered that a long time ago. It’s about your brand,” Pondexter said. “I’m a basketball player that broke barriers into the fashion industry. At a young age, when I moved to New York, I made it cool.”
Whatever she chooses to do after basketball, Pondexter has made a lasting impression on not only Chicago Sky history, but also the history of the WNBA.
“I need to continue to be the best that I can be and give the game what it deserves.”