She Was the Only Girl on an All-Boys Team and the First to Slam Dunk During a WNBA Game
Breaking barriers and creating history is synonymous with the name Lisa Leslie. One of the founding (and most recognized) players of the Women’s National Basketball Association, she has attained an immense amount of success both personally and professionally. And today she will be inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame for an elite career that has been a slam dunk in more ways than one.
Through her 13 seasons with the Los Angeles Sparks, Leslie was the first player in the WNBA to win the regular season MVP, the playoff MVP and the All-Star Game MVP titles within the same season, joining the ranks of NBA legends Michael Jordan, Willis Reed and Shaquille O’Neal. She’s won four Olympic gold medals, and she shattered the glass ceiling by becoming the first female player in history to dunk during a WNBA game.
But all these victories weren’t just passed to her. In the fall of her eighth-grade year, she was the only girl on an all-boys basketball team. It could have been intimidating, but she didn’t let it daunt her, instead embracing the opportunity to challenge herself and the rest of the young boys on the team. The experience gave her strength, motivation and confidence to achieve anything—and she gained much-needed (and deserved) respect as a female athlete, and person.
“It’s a matter of how you handle it,” she says. “I’ve never allowed it to last long enough or linger to be an issue in my life. Ultimately you learn to just push through and persevere.”
The 6-foot-5-inch former athlete has had her fair share of challenges and adversities. Leslie admits she experienced a sense of self-doubt, a lack of confidence at one time—a universal language that comes with the territory in all stages of life, from childhood to adulthood. But what sets Leslie apart is that she never allowed these negative feelings to define her.
Now 42, Leslie’s talents have transcended out of the game into the realm of entrepreneurial endeavors, becoming co-owner of the Los Angeles Sparks in 2011 and launching the Lisa Leslie Basketball and Leadership Academy. She is the author of Don’t Let the Lipstick Fool You and is currently a co-host on CBS Sports’ We Need to Talk,the first-ever nationally televised all-female sports show.
Leslie also recently partnered with Boston Market in the crusade to “take a side against fried”—which comes as no surprise, because healthy living is a personal cause extremely important to her. The message is something she would love to tell her younger self, advice she wished someone would’ve given her a lot sooner.
“Although [I was] being physically active,” she says, “it’s necessary to make healthier food choices and create healthy eating habits early on.”
Without question, Leslie has dominated both on and off the court. As a supportive wife, loving mother, entrepreneur, author, motivational speaker, sports analyst and world-renowned former athlete, it seems almost impossible that Leslie would be able to juggle it all, without dropping the ball. But she insists it’s all about priorities and setting goals.
“I don’t know if you ever achieve work-life balance, but you work hard to achieve balance,” Leslie says.
She’s now solidified her place in sports history (the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame today and the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in September). Leslie’s work ethic, willpower to succeed, tenacity and dedication have catapulted her personal brand to new levels.
So how does she want to be remembered? As a person who “gave it my all.”