Despite consistently delivering top-tier performances and contributing to the growth of basketball, the achievements of women often are overshadowed by the spotlight on men’s basketball in the NBA. Women in the WNBA struggle to get as much attention and media coverage, even though they are just as talented. Stars like Lisa Leslie broke through this barrier, becoming icons for young black women in the sport. The contributions Leslie made to basketball inspire girls of all backgrounds to pursue their dreams on the court and beyond.
Leslie has been a star ever since she stepped foot on a basketball court. Before she started high school at age 14, she had the attention of the top Division 1 programs including Stanford University and, the University of Tennessee. Leslie attended Morningside High School in Inglewood and will be remembered as one of the best high school basketball players to come out of California. She was a four-year varsity starter for the Monarchs and led her team in both scoring and rebounds. Her talents helped the Monarchs win two state championships (1989 and 1990) and receive an invitation to compete on the USA Junior World Championship team. As a senior Leslie averaged 27 points and 15 rebounds per game.
After a phenomenal high school career, Leslie continued her athletic career at the University of Southern California (USC). Leslie was a key member of the Trojans basketball program from 1990 to 1994. Leslie competed in 120 games. During her college career, she averaged 20.1 points per game, successfully making 53.4% of her shots and 69.8% of her free throws. She broke records in the Pac-10 Conference for scoring, rebounding, and blocked shots, totaling 2,414 points, 1,214 rebounds, and 321 blocked shots. Additionally, Leslie holds the USC record for the most blocked shots in a single season with 95.
While at USC Leslie won one Pac-10 conference championship and earned four NCAA tournament appearances. Leslie received All-Pac-10 conference honors all four years and made history in the conference by being the first player to be selected first team every year. Leslie’s achievements in 1991 included winning the Pac-10 Rookie of the Year award and gaining national recognition as the freshman of the year, marking the beginning of a collegiate career filled with numerous other accolades.
In 1997, Leslie was drafted by the Los Angeles Sparks where she developed into one of the best players to ever play in the WNBA. Leslie helped the Sparks win their first championship in 2001. In 2002 Leslie became the first WNBA player ever to score more than 3,000 points in her career and helped the Sparks secure their second consecutive WNBA championship. Two seasons later, she achieved another milestone by becoming the first player to surpass 4,000 career points. Leslie still leads all Sparks players in total points and rebounds. She ranks fourth in all-time rebounds, following Rebekkah Brunson, Sylvia Fowles, and Tamika Catchings. During the 2004 season, she also became the third player in WNBA history to achieve a triple-double, scoring 29 points, grabbing 15 rebounds, and blocking 10 shots.
Leslie announced her retirement from the WNBA on February 4, 2009. Leslie concluded her professional career holding the league record in points (6,263), rebounds (3,307), and PRA (10,444). While playing for the Sparks, Leslie participated in four consecutive Olympics and won four gold medals. She’s only the second female basketball player, after Teresa Edwards, to achieve this. Leslie has also played for the United States national women’s basketball team, winning gold in 1996 and 2000 as well as earning a world championship.
Throughout all the awards she received for her basketball skills, Leslie always stayed determined to prepare herself for life beyond the court. She completed her bachelor’s degree in communications and then went on to achieve a master’s in business administration.
“I’m a better and more educated person because of basketball,” Leslie says. (Si.com)
Since retirement, Leslie has stayed heavily involved in the sports world. She has been a sports commentator and analyst for NBC, ABC, and Fox Sports Net. Leslie even wrote a book called “Don’t Let the Lipstick Fool You” and became part-owner of the Los Angeles Sparks in 2011. In 2019, Leslie became the coach of the Triplets, a team in the BIG3 three-on-three league started by Ice Cube. She led them to a 7–1 record and won the BIG3 Championship that year.
Leslie has also ventured into acting and modeling appearing in Vogue and Newsweek, as well as many sports publications. She played roles in the films “Uncle Drew,” “Think Like A Man,” and “Backyard Basketball.”
Throughout her life Leslie relied heavily on faith. Faith was an important factor that allowed her to be successful on and off the court.
“As a prayerful kid, I was always putting my faith and goals in the Lord’s name. That was always one of the things that helped me the most. I always wanted to fulfill His purpose. I think that’s really been the saving grace for me. When you have faith, you have to step out on it and trust God,” Leslie said. (brnow.org)