Let's Get It On
When the NBA puts a stinker out there, at least there's always the chance of a blink-of-the-eye comeback, or at least some notable highlights. Sadly, when the WNBA's product is bad, it's just bad. Like college, but minus the screaming throngs who seem intent on erasing exactly this discussion. As long as everyone's looking intense.
Such was the case with last night's Liberty-Fever match-up, which was abysmal. The Liberty's first principle is Cappie Pondexter (pictured above), as deadly a guard as you'll find at any level, and Leon Smith's high school girlfriend. Putting her and Diana Taurasi on the same Phoenix Mercury team didn't just win titles two of the last three seasons. It made for a team so exultant that, yes, you got that familiar ol' REVOLUTION feeling in your blood. Then, because of money, a desire to get her own spotlight, and a lifelong interest in fashion, Pondexter headed to the New York Liberty.
Pondexter has gotten even more economical -- more Deron-esque, maybe -- this season, and spearheaded a massive improvement on the part of the Liberty. But if her shot's not falling, a Liberty game drags. Except unlike Kobe or LeBron, she can't make up a double-digit deficit in under a minute. That's one noticeable difference that remains; the WNBA is fast, but that's not the same as NBA-explosive. Yesterday, the Fever made sure Cappie got stuck. The Fever are led by Tamika Catchings, an impossibly strong, agile 1-2-3 who just won the league's Defensive Player of the Year for the fourth time. I like their flighty young PG Briann January, but the team wins when it follows Catchings's example.
Fever won, Pondexter was foiled even if her line says otherwise.
What I was most struck by, though, was the announcing crew's completely chipper explanation of Cappie's move. She wants to get into fashion. She wants to be #1. Forget, for a second, that we've spent all summer bashing LeBron for not wanting to be THE MAN -- if any NBA player expressed these sentiments (say, play for the Knicks to work on his rappin'), he would be crushed for them. Media would bring it up as a way of questioning his worth as a human being. Does this mean that the WNBA is kinder, softer and more understanding? Are women different from men? What do you think? Can the league simply not afford to not put a brave face on whatever its best players decide to do? Does it even pay enough to wield moral authority?
I hope that got you thinking, since what I really want to talk about is Cappie's hair. This is her during last year's playoffs:
Here's her babysitter-ish profile from this season, which is, admittedly, a return to the way she looked during most of her time in the pros:
I am more than willing to roll over and play dead if this turns into a discussion of black women's hair. But -- correct me if you think otherwise -- the spiky Cappie, however recent a development this was, seemed far more appropriate for a scoring machine who might well be the WNBA's most ruthless one-on-one player ever. Now, she's a nice, cute lady. This relates back to my discussion of Lauren Jackson's appearance -- performance art on the court, sex symbol off of it. Cappie dropped her edgy look -- one that, it should be said, was certainly stylish in its own way -- in favor of something more traditionally feminine. Good for her, I guess, except she doesn't seems like the same player to me.
I know, she's actually a better player. But from a style and presentation standpoint, it would be like if Allen Iverson cut of his braids ten years earlier. Because he wanted to be a guest on Good Morning America. Throw in a trade away from Philly, and into the waiting arms of some place that doesn't routinely audition for the title of most gully city in America, and you've got something like Cappie Pondexter's transformation.
Cappie Pondexter was never a threat to destroy America, so the cultural politics here aren't quite the same. But maybe this gives us a new perspective on Iverson's infamous look. As an athlete -- and yes, the WNBA does always come back to basketball -- Pondexter was far more striking, and apt, with last season's look. A brash scorer should look like a space-aged street urchin, not the girl next door. Am I equating being a bad-ass with a lack of femininity? Quite possibly. Did Cynthia Cooper never happen? Regardless, Cappie had her finest season, and got her widest exposure, with a certain image taking hold. I get it, she's pretty now, and I have no right to see her any different on the court -- especially when I know this is part of a larger life-goal. But just as most reasonable people prefer to remember Dr. J with his afro, or still see Brandon Jennings as "the kid with the high-top fade", Pondexter shouldn't underestimate what her on-court look means for her game.
Perhaps Cappie could take a cue from Lauren Jackson, who has insisted on a separation between church and state almost to the point of absurdity. At the same time, though, it's perfectly reasonable to think that an WNBA player could be at once stylish and intimidating. And, perhaps, more likely to click with the world of fashion.