Pondexter has designs on NYC success

NEW YORK -- For the general manager of a team coming off a 13-21 season, the news was almost too good to be true.

Cappie Pondexter, one of the top players in the WNBA, was demanding a trade from Phoenix. And she wanted to go to a specific team: the New York Liberty.

"I couldn't believe it at first. And then when I saw it was a real thing, I said, 'Let's get it done,'" Liberty GM Carol Blazejowski said after the Liberty's practice on Tuesday.

After months of e-mails and phone calls, the general manager worked out a three-team trade with the Mercury and the Chicago Sky on March 30 to bring Pondexter to Madison Square Garden.

It took a few months for Pondexter and her Liberty teammates to coalesce on the court. They finished the first half 7-9 and in last place in the Eastern Conference.

But, led by Pondexter, the Liberty reeled off a franchise-record 10 straight wins in the second half and finished second in the Eastern Conference.

"We had played enough games where the excuses of [the team] not playing together for long enough was over with," Pondexter said of her message to the team to start the second half. "It was either we start playing basketball or we don't make the postseason."

The Liberty climbed out of the basement in the Eastern Conference in August and will face the third-seeded Indiana Fever in Game 1 of the best-of-three first-round playoff series on Thursday at Madison Square Garden.

From the outside looking in, it seemed that Pondexter's trade request -- going from the Mercury, with whom she won two WNBA titles, to the Liberty, which finished in last place in the Eastern Conference in 2009 -- made little sense.

But Pondexter was looking at life beyond basketball when she made her demand.

She came to New York to be at the epicenter of the fashion world, a world she plans on working in after she hangs up her high-tops. Pondexter teamed with celebrity stylist Lisa Smith Craig earlier this month to start 4 Season Style Management, an image consultant company.

"Phoenix is great. But in terms of taking myself and my [nonbasketball] career to another level, I don't think that I could do that in Phoenix," said Pondexter, who was selected No. 2 in the 2006 WNBA draft after a stellar career at Rutgers. "I'm kind of jump-starting [my fashion career] now that way the foundation is set, and I don't have to worry about finding a 9-to-5 [job after retiring from basketball]."

The Liberty certainly hope that retirement is years away. Pondexter, 27, is having one of her finest seasons in the WNBA. The combo guard ranks second in the league in scoring (21.4 points per game) and sixth in assists (4.9 per game) and was named the Eastern Conference Player of the Week five times.

So for Pondexter, the offseason trade demand to New York couldn't have worked out better. She has her team in the playoffs and has her hands firmly entrenched in the fashion business.

"It was perfect in a lot of ways," Pondexter said. "No. 1, New York needed a leader. No. 2, it was an opportunity for my company. It worked out perfectly. Now, we'll see what happens in the playoffs."

Ian Begley is a regular contributor to ESPNNewYork.com.

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