Lisa Leslie is one of the most distinguished athletes in female sports. Her resume speaks volumes but Leslie did more than excel on the court, she paved a way for women in sports and the rise of women’s basketball.
The Gardena, California native stood six feet tall in the 7th grade and didn’t have the desire to play basketball until she picked up the ball and became hooked on the game. She then went on to make a major impact at Morningside High School in Los Angeles. In a game against South Torrance High, Leslie scored 49 points in the first quarter and 52 in the second, totaling 101 points in 16 minutes. Torrance scored 23 points and forfeited the game at halftime.
“In high school, I was sort of thrust into this team where the tradition was the senior had to score as many points as possible. I was senior captain, and I had to break 69 points. I was just locked in; like a video game on the court. By the time it was halftime, I had scored 101 points. I honestly had no idea; I thought something was wrong with the scoreboard,” said Leslie to BleacherReport.
Leslie led the Monarchs to two state championships. Her outstanding talent and championship attitude was carried throughout her career with USC and the Los Angeles Sparks.
Leslie first stamped her name at the University of Southern California. The 1991 National Freshman of the Year led the Trojans to a record of 89-31 and four consecutive NCAA tournament appearances. Leslie helped USC win a Pac-10 title and was a three-time All American, four-time All-Pac-10 team selection, and the 1994 Naismith National Player of the Year. She finished her Trojan career with 2,414 career points, 1,214 career rebounds, and 321 blocks.
Leslie was drafted to the Los Angeles Sparks in 1997, becoming one of the pioneers of the WNBA. In her 11 seasons with the Sparks, she was committed to growing the league, the game of basketball, and the Sparks organization. She was the first WNBA player to dunk in a game in 2002 against the Miami Sol.
“I remember we were down, and I was just upset that we were losing. And we had a nice defensive play by one of my teammates. And I ran out ahead, and she threw me the ball, but I really wanted to just dunk the ball because I was mad, and I wanted to really inspire my teammates, so that’s when I threw it down.,” said Leslie to NPR.
Leslie averaged 17.3 points, 9.1 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.4 steals per game in her career. She led LA to back-to-back championships in 2001 and 2002. The 2001 win was the Sparks first title and first appearance in the Finals in franchise history. Leslie was the top scorer in the 2001 series with 156 points and 86 rebounds. The Hall of Famer is an eight-time first team All-WNBA player, seven-time WNBA All-Star, four-time second team All-WNBA player, three-time WNBA MVP, three-time All-Star Game MVP, and two-time WNBA Defensive Player of the Year. She was the first player to reach 6,000 career points and is currently ranked #9 on the all-time scorers list and #4 for 3,307 rebounds.
In addition to her unforgettable career in the WNBA, Leslie led team USA to four Olympic Gold Medals in 1996, 2000, 2004, and 2008. She set an USA Olympic women’s scoring record against Japan in 1996, scoring 35 points
On the 23rd annual National Girls & Women in Sports Day in 2009, Leslie announced her retirement at the end of the 2009 WNBA season.
Nonetheless, she has remained busy and focused on the goal of growing the representation of women in sports. Leslie has added author, sports analyst and commentator, coach, philanthropist, and businesswoman to her list of accomplishments.
Recently, Leslie coached the WNBA All-Star team to a victory over the USA national team in the 2021 WNBA All-Star game.
Leslie shares her experiences, knowledge, and skills through the Lisa Leslie Basketball & Leadership Academy. Her legacy continues as a studio analyst for the Orlando Magic broadcast and a coach of Ice Cube’s BIG3 expansion team, Triplets.