The WNBA lost an icon when Cappie Pondexter retired from the league after a 13-year career.
While her excellence on the court led to a plethora of accomplishments — including seven All-Star selections and two WNBA titles — Pondexter’s impact off the court helped change the league’s culture.
She was one of the first WNBA players to showcase the multidimensional talents and interests that WNBA players today have no problem sharing.
Pondexter has spoken out against gun violence, an issue that has personally affected her. In 2006, she co-founded 4Season Style Management, a New York-based image development firm that “provides consulting services such as personal shopping, wardrobe and fashion styling.”
Pondexter’s fashion endeavors paved the way for current WNBA players. The Sky regularly post pictures or videos of their players arriving before games showing off their style.
Now that she’s no longer in the league, Pondexter plans to continue to branch out in her different interests.
“I can do whatever,” she said. “I can do music. I can do acting. Whatever opportunities that come next will be great.”
Pondexter spoke with the Sun-Times during the Nike Girls Camp in Chicago to discuss the state of the WNBA, youth sports and more in this week’s Chat Room.
What made you decide to get involved with the camp?
CP: I’ve been affiliated with Nike since I was like 15. Now that I’ve kind of moved passed being an active endorsed athlete, I’ve just been doing community work. If it’s for the kids, they know — especially in Chicago since I grew up here — I’ll do it without a doubt. Without a question or second guesses. I’ll make time.
Do you think it’s important for young girls to have their own separate space for working with each other?
CP: It’s important because male sports are very dominated and us women can feel intimidated. Especially if it’s our first time competing and learning the game. It’s cool to kind of separate so you can see the people who are kind of like you and make friendships. I think it’s beautiful for these young girls to have a space that they can play together, learn, figure things out, and then they’ll have a pen pal partner for the rest of their lives if they choose to.
Did you have these kinds of camps growing up?
CP: No. It wasn’t really like that for me. I went from playing small fry straight to USA Basketball. I didn’t have an opportunity to go to a lot of camps unless they were elite camps. It was different for me, but I think this is important because it gives them the base to figure out if this is something they want to do. I knew right away. Every girl doesn’t know that right away.
Kobe Bryant had an interview with Cari Champion on ESPN recently, and he mentioned how there needs to be more of a space in youth sports for fun, learning and, like you said, figuring out what you want to do.
CP: Kobe is a great guy. We think alike. What he’s doing now for his young girls, not just basketball, but the Academy he has in Los Angeles, is tremendous. It gives them the mindset if they want to go the professional route. But he’s a great teacher, and he’s great at what he does.
He also mentioned how regimented things are in youth sports.
CP: Because there’s money being made off us at a young age. I think it takes away the fun of actually playing the sport. It’s going from “Yeah, my kids are going to play basketball” to “No, they’re a business. They’re a brand.” OK, so what about the developmental stages? The part you actually enjoy and not worry about money, shoes or brands.
How would you describe the state of the WNBA?
CP: It’s a growing business. We know we have to make a very strong shift moving forward to even get to the level of the NBA. It’s a step-by-step process. I think taking the All-Star experience — it was probably one of the greatest All-Stars we’ve ever had. The next stop is probably better viewership for the playoffs. So how are we going to market that?
How much do you keep up with the Sky?
CP: To be honest, and I have to be very transparent, not much since I retired. I try to make games as often as possible because I’m still fans of the ladies that played. I just retired 3½ months ago, so it’s like I’m trying to live my best life while still staying involved with the game. I do teach young ladies or guys.
How is retirement life different?
CP: Basketball — obviously, I had to be serious about it — but now I can go to events and have a drink and be OK toasting with the people around me. It’s just certain things that I probably wouldn’t have been able to do on an every-day basis that I can do now. I can actually have a life and live it. I’m living freely and enjoying it.