PROFESSIONAL BASKETBALL PLAYER
Lisa Leslie was a groundbreaking women's professional basketball player. The first woman to dunk a basketball in a regulation game, it is Leslie' considerable range of skills at both the offensive and the defensive end of the floor that have made her one of the finest female players in the history of the game.
Lisa Leslie was born in Inglewood, California, a suburb of the basketball hotbed of Los Angeles. Leslie was 6 ft (1.8 m) tall by the time she had reached the seventh grade, and she was projected to become a basketball star from a young age. Leslie grew to a height of 6 ft 5 in (1.96 m) by the end of her high school career. Unlike many female players who are remarkably tall, Leslie possessed remarkable balance and coordination. She was lean and powerful, physically strong enough to defend players who outweighed her by 30 or 40 lb (14-18 kg) Leslie demonstrated the quickness and over all court sense of a smaller and quicker player. A high school All-American selection, Leslie was a hotly recruited university prospect when she graduated from high school in 1989, ultimately accepting a basketball scholarship to the University of Southern California (USC) Trojans.
Prior to the beginning of her university playing career in 1989, Leslie was a member of the United States world champion Junior women's team.
Leslie was an instant success at USC. She was named the nation's freshman basketball player of the year in 1990, as she was instrumental in the strong season enjoyed for the Trojans. The following year, Leslie was selected to her next national team; as a member of the United States University Games squad, Leslie won a gold medal in 1991. Leslie had now established herself as a dominant collegiate basketball force, as she won two Naismith Awards during her career at USC—the award given to the nation's outstanding female player. At the conclusion of her four-year USC career, Leslie was named to the Goodwill Games team that won the gold medal in that competition in 1994.
As was the case for many talented American female college players in the early 1990s, the end of Leslie's collegiate career posed a difficult question. As there was no women's professional league then in existence, Leslie's playing options were restricted to a handful of foreign leagues, most established of which were based in Japan and Italy. In the autumn of 1994, Leslie left the United States to play in the vibrant Italian league with the established club, Sicilgesso. Leslie was an instant star in Italy, averaging over 22 points and 11 rebounds per game against players who were primarily the best of Europe and the United States.
In 1996, Leslie played a key role in the gold medal victory by the United States in the Olympic basketball competition hosted at the Atlanta Games. In the semi-finals, Leslie set a single-game scoring record with a 35-point outpouring against Japan.
With the formation of the Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA) in 1997, Leslie returned to the United States to join the Los Angeles Sparks. Leslie wasted no time in asserting herself in the WNBA as one of its most dominant players. Her height, athletic ability, shot blocking ability, and shooting range gave the Sparks a multi-faceted weapon. In addition to leading the Sparks to a WNBA title in 2001, Leslie has set numerous individual records, including most rebounds in a single game and a variety of scoring records. Leslie was named both the league and playoff Most Valuable Player in 2001, and she established the mark as the all time leading scorer in WNBA league play.
There was significant media attention paid to the slam dunk executed by Leslie in a WNBA game in 2002. The media coverage of Leslie's dunk was consistent with other examples of how the media regarded women's basketball, as this dunk was portrayed as an example of how Leslie was able to do something in a game that was regularly done by men. The coverage of the dunk, an isolated incident in Leslie's career, tended to overshadow Leslie's con summate basketball skills, ones that were far more important to her team's success than the ability to dunk the ball. Leslie's prowess as a rebounder and her ability to change the complexion of a game with her quickness and shot blocking ability became sub ordinate in some circles to a single emphatic shot.
Another noteworthy aspect of Leslie's performance over the years is the fact that she has enjoyed a relatively injury-free career, in both the college and professional ranks. Her physical durability has been a significant contributing factor to her success.
Leslie has pursued a number of activities away from the basketball court. Prior to the 1996 Olympics, Leslie signed a contract with the prestigious Wilhelmina Models agency; she has been featured in Vogue magazine and she has endorsed a number of products in television commercials. Leslie is one of the few WNBA players with a sufficient public profile to secure a commercial endorsement contract. Leslie has also made a number of guest appearances in a variety of American television situation comedies.
Leslie has also proved to be a rarity among professional athletes in her continued educational pursuits in the course of her playing career. She received her undergraduate degree in Communications from USC, and at various times during the basketball off-season since 1994, Leslie has taken further courses to obtain her Masters of Business Administration. Leslie has also been active as a national spokesperson for breast cancer awareness and prevention.
In some basketball circles, describing a female player as playing like a man is regarded as vaguely sexist and demeaning of the female athlete's true abilities. In the case of Lisa Leslie, such comparisons in playing style are warranted. Leslie's athleticism and approach to the game has been favorably compared to one of the great centers basketball history, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Lisa Leslie has not revolutionized women's basketball so much as she enhanced it with her grace and undeniable star quality. She has provided an incalculable measure of credibility to the WNBA through the first ten years of its existence.