By Dorothy J Gentry
For love of the game.
That’s why Cappie Pondexter, who is a seven time All-Star and two time WNBA champion, didn’t walk away last week when she was waived by the Los Angeles Sparks.
When asked why she didn’t just call it a career after being released June 28, she bristled at the very idea.
“Would we ask Diana Tarausi that question? Sue Bird? It’s the same thing. Our legacies mean more than what people perceive and the accolades that come with it. We do it because we have a passion for it. We do it because we have young girls watching. We do it because we want the league to grow. And those are the main reasons why I didn’t give up. Just like you as a writer, you have a passion about writing and you write from your heart,” she said, using me as an example. “Well I play basketball because I love it. I grew up playing it because I love it. It has nothing to do with anything else.
“At the end of the day, I think that’s what it’s about. It’s not about anything else. I’m not chasing shit. But just the opportunity to play basketball because I love it.”
And she’s taken that love for the game to the Indiana Fever, a young, talented team struggling through a tough season at 2-17.
The 35-year-old guard has played 12 years in the league, including stints in New York, Chicago and was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2006 draft. She was signed by the Fever on July 1, played in her first game on July 3 and promptly helped her new team to a stunning road defeat of the Minnesota Lynx, scoring 12 points and grabbing 5 rebounds off the bench.
“Why Indiana? Why Now?” I asked her after warm-ups for a road game against the Dallas Wings. Her answer was simple. “I believe the universe works accordingly. I believe when you’re in alignment with yourself, I believe things happen for a reason.
“I played with Pokey (Chatman) for two years in Chicago, I was familiar with her. When she called, I was available. I talked with my family, my mom, my agent and thought it was the right decision moving forward and the organization made me feel comfortable.”
In short, she just wanted to keep playing basketball – the game that she loves. And Fever head coach Pokey Chatman gave her that chance.
“I coached Cappie in USA Basketball in 2005, traded for her in Chicago and it’s similar to what I thought she could bring to the table in Chicago,” Chatman said about why she brought in Pondexter. “She’s a vet. She understands the game, but she understands big moments and she doesn’t shy away from them.
“It’s a little different when someone of her caliber is walking into the huddle before you and saying the same stuff you’re going to say,” Chatman continued. “They listen a little bit differently and it validates so much. We’re just excited she was available. When I found out she was healthy it was an easy decision.”
Her new teammates love her and appreciate the experience she brings to the table.
“The addition of Cappie Pondexter has given us a little bit more of that spunk, that resiliency you are talking about with the experience that she has had,” said Natalie Achonwa. “She brought up them starting, in one of her many years in theWNBA, 1-11 and coming back to make a playoff run so I think having that experienced addition to our team gives us a little bit more juice in this second half of the season.”
Said Fever rookie Kelsey Mitchell: “Cappie’s great. She’s come in and picked up our energy for us. Kind of assured us you can’t take the game for granted. Her veteran presence has made us realize that if we just continue to follow her and people like‘OG’ Candice (Dupree) we will put ourselves in a position to win.”
Rookie Victoria Vivians said she appreciates the energy Pondexter brings to the game and team.
“The energy she has bought in is crazy. Even with her age, she has more energy than the rest of us on the team,” Vivians said. “Just her coming in has sparked us up. She helped us get that W in Minnesota.”
As the league heads toward the All-Star break at the end of this month and wraps up the season shortly thereafter, Pondexter – with her love of the game front and center – believes the season is not lost and the Fever can still turn things around.
“I think you can do anything you set your mind to. It’s just a mindset. Taking every game one at a time, practice one day at a time, taking care of your body, just different factors,” Pondexter said of how that turnaround can occur.
“I believe that if you’re a winner, you’re always going to be a winner no matter where you are. I think right now we’re building a culture and the culture is getting back to the tradition of what the Fever is all about.
To me, it’s important because Tamka Catchings (former Fever player) is a very important part of my career and why I started playing basketball. I feel like I owe it to her more importantly than anything else just to help bring the organization back. Because Indiana Fever is one of those organizations that kind of helped pioneer the game,” she said.
“You think about the Washington Mystics, New York Liberty, Phoenix Mercury, and the LA Sparks – those are the teams that were around in the beginning in 97 and it’s just an important part of our history.”
After last night’s loss to the Wings, the Fever have a short break before a rematch with the Lynx on Wednesday, July 11 at home.