Fifteen years after closing out one of the most-storied careers in college basketball, the Blaze is lighting up the NBA.
Actually, she's night-lighting up the NBA. And key-chaining the NBA. And buttoning, paperweighting, pinning, duffel-bagging and coffee-mugging the NBA. Carol Blazejowski, once the brightest star in women's basketball, is now an NBA director of consumer products, which means that every day she decides that, yes, the night-light does get the league's seal of approval, but, no, the toilet paper does not. "You wouldn't believe the number of applications we get," says Blazejowski, guessing that the number is in the thousands. "And they all believe that their idea is the best thing since sliced bread."
From her 10th-floor office in midtown Manhattan, the 37-year-old Blazejowski works with 11 other licensing directors approving the NBA logo for merchandise, whose worldwide sale last year amassed $2.3 billion, While the other directors handle the licensing for such things as apparel and children's products, Blazejowski is responsible for deciding which sporting goods and gifts can bear the NBA logo. Two years ago she also created the concept of the NBA Commemorative Collection, a line of limited-edition caps, basketballs, plates, lithographs and other collectibles designed to appeal to the serious fan.
"Carol is creative and executes well," says Sal LaRocca, a group manager in the consumer products division. "She took a program that didn't exist and made it one of the NBA's more viable operations. She's excellent at finishing the play. Which is a pretty good description of what she used to do on the court."
In the late '70s the Blaze lit up the women's college basketball scene like no one else. One of the purest shooters ever to pop a J, Blazejowski averaged 38.6 points a game as a senior in 1978 while leading Montclair (N.J.) State—a school that offers no athletic scholarships—to the Final Four. A three-time All-America, she closed out her four-year career with 3,199 points and a scoring average of 31.7 points per game.
After making the 1980 U.S. Olympic team, which did not compete in Moscow because of the U.S. boycott, Blazejowski played with the New Jersey Gems of the Women's Professional Basketball League until the league folded in '81. She then went to work as a promotional representative for Adidas, where she gained much of her marketing savvy. She joined the NBA in 1990.
Although she misses the competitive end of the game, Blazejowski doesn't harbor any resentment at not having been able to continue her playing career. "I accomplished everything I set out to do on the court," she says. "I wanted to be the best player in the game. I wanted to make history. I wanted a storybook college career. And I did all of those things."
Blazejowski plays pickup games three or four times a week now, and she has her own set of keys to the Montclair State gym. She can still fire off a shot with the best of them. In fact, people who play with her now say that the only thing she'll ever pass is the salt. "What can I say? I'm still competitive," says a laughing Blaze. "But these days, I try to channel my competitiveness and passion into my work."