There’s no doubt, Lisa Leslie, 37, is one of the most iconic figures in women’s basketball. The former Los Angeles Sparks center is the league’s career leader in scoring and rebounding. Not to mention, along with her four Olympic gold medals, she’s been a two-time league champion, an eight-time All-Star and three-time most valuable player. Plus, she was the first woman to dunk in a professional game and score 6,000 points. She may be leaving the court but she won’t completely abandon the sport. On the heels of her retirement, one of the WNBA’s most recognizable faces takes a look back with no regrets and shares what’s next.
ESSENCE.COM: How does it feel to be retired?
LISA LESLIE: You know, everyone uses the word retired but I like to consider it as being in transition. I’m too young to be retired (laughs). But it feels good. I’m happy and confident about my decision to call it quits knowing that I was still able to contribute both on the offensive and defensive side of the game. I didn’t want to stay out there until I had to be boxed out of the game (laughs).
ESSENCE.COM: Why did you decide to do this now?
LESLIE: It’s where I am in life now. I mean, physically, I know, I can play for another three to four years; that wouldn’t be a problem at all. But having a family and being with my children is important to me. I just wanted to be able to have more time with them.
ESSENCE.COM: How did you manage motherhood and basketball?
LESLIE: I have three kids (an 18, 15 and 2); the two oldest are by marriage and the youngest I birthed. You just find the balance. You’re up early to make sure they’re clothed, fed and everything else. I love being a wife, mom and career woman. You really have to give your hats off to women who do this every day because you never understand their whole sacrifice until you go through it.
ESSENCE.COM: What’s next? Do you think you’ll make a transition into sports broadcasting?
LESLIE: I haven’t ruled out anything. I’d like to do some broadcast work for the NBA and the WNBA; I’m loyal to the game. But beyond basketball, I believe that I have a duty as a role model to impact the youth. I’m looking forward to starting a Lisa Leslie basketball academy so I can pass on my knowledge to young girls about the sport.
ESSENCE.COM: When can we look forward to the opening of the academy?
LESLIE: I don’t have a set date since I’m still trying to get it off the ground. But there are so many girls, especially in southern California, that could benefit from this. I want it to be all encompassing. It’s not just about learning the game, but teaching kids how to be successful off the court too, whether we focus on self-esteem or etiquette. I really just want to nurture young girls and teach them to love themselves.
ESSENCE.COM: What’s your outlook on women’s basketball today?
LESLIE: As far as talent, it’s been a phenomenal year. There are so many players who’ve elevated the game and continue to get better. The product we put out on the floor is very good and probably at its best right now. But the overall mass media coverage of the game is lacking; they really could do a better job of supporting the WNBA. I always say it’s not our fault that we were born girls but we have a right to play too.
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