NEW YORK, Nov. 19, 2012 -- New York basketball fans are a peculiar breed. Tactically sophisticated and vocally demanding, they can be tough on under-achievers. Passionate to the point of hysteria and ridiculously loyal, once you’ve won them over, you’ve got their hearts forever.
In their 16-year WNBA history the New York Liberty have reached the WNBA Finals three times, but thus far have been unable to close the deal and deliver the title so coveted by these Big Apple hoops fans. So, while Madison Square Garden is being remodeled into a state-of-the-art arena, the Liberty are laying the foundation of what they hope will be a championship squad, featuring the twin pillars of First Team All-WNBA guard Cappie Pondexter and newly hired three-time WNBA champion and two-time NBA title-winner Bill Laimbeer as head coach and GM.
“I’m here for one reason: to get this team into the Eastern Conference Finals and to win it,” said Laimbeer after joining the Liberty. “That’s my goal. Once we’re in the Finals, it’s all about the players’ goal, which is to be champions of the WNBA. That’s something that only players can do, and I’m confident we can reach that goal.”
Laimbeer knows of what he speaks, having coached the Detroit Shock to three WNBA crowns (in 2003, 2006 and 2008), in addition to his storied NBA playing career which included two NBA titles with the famed “Bad Boys” Detroit Pistons, four All-Star appearances and the fifth longest consecutive games played streak (685) in NBA history.
After leaving the Shock, and the WNBA, in 2009, Laimbeer served a stint as assistant coach with the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves, but the challenge presented by the Liberty was too tempting for him to pass up.
“I’m a competitor. Simple as that. I love competing, And there’s only so much competition on the golf course and fishing,” said Laimbeer. “I needed to get back to basketball and do what I do best. Win.”
That single-minded pursuit of a WNBA crown is a source of common ground with Pondexter, the flashy, speedy guard with a terrific handle and keen shooting eye. A WNBA All-Star in her rookie campaign with Phoenix, Pondexter led the Mercury to a WNBA Championship in 2007, where she was named Finals MVP after averaging 22 points per game, and she doubled her championship bling with another title in Phoenix with Diana Taurasi and Co. in 2009, before being dealt to New York.
“I’m committed to winning a championship in New York, that’s why I signed here,” said Pondexter in the postgame locker room after being eliminated from 2012 playoffs by league MVP Tina Charles and the Connecticut Sun. “I know I hold a lot of the responsibility in our team reaching that goal and it’s what I’m focused on for the future.”
Pondexter may not have been a Pistons fan growing up in Chicago while Laimbeer was battling with her hometown Bulls for NBA supremacy, but she does count herself a fan of Laimbeer’s appointment as Head Coach and General Manager of the Liberty.
“I’m extremely happy for us to sign a proven winner, with much, much success and experience in Bill Laimbeer,” said Pondexter from Turkey, where she is currently playing for Turkish club Fenerbache. “You’re talking about a hard-nosed, super competitive guy who wants to win at all costs, and that’s something you need to reach the top in this league.”
Laimbeer returned the scouting report on Pondexter.
“Well, of course in Cappie Pondexter, you’re talking about one of the marquee players in the WNBA, she’s First Team All-WNBA and one of the few players in the league who can – at will – create her own shot,” said Laimbeer. “And I’m looking forward to working with her and having a conversation about her responsibilities and what she needs to do to help us win games.”
Laimbeer then shared his general views on building a championship contender with Pondexter as a cornerstone.
“I’m all about team, because this is a player’s league, make no mistake,” said Laimbeer. “It’s getting talented players, tough players and managing them properly and getting the best out of them. I know most of the players on the Liberty, there’s really no secrets in this league, talent-wise. But you don’t really know someone, really know them, until you coach them. But this is a group with skills and talents and we’ll identify the keepers and with the draft and free agency get down to the hard work of building this team.”
Pondexter is look forward to it.
“We ended last season strong, but I expected there’d be some changes because we fell short of our goal, to bring a championship to New York,” said Pondexter. “And getting a guy like Laimbeer in here is a good first step and I’ll be ready to do the work to get there.”