Lisa Leslie has dominated in a sport in which men often take center court for decades, but there’s one thing she’s always been secure in: her womanhood. The three-time WNBA MVP and four-time Olympic gold medal winner currently coaches in Ice Cube’s Big3 league, leading her team, the Triplets, to victory in 2019, her first year in the position. And while it may be a big deal to spectators to see the Basketball Hall of Famer coach a group of men, Leslie doesn’t think twice about it.
“I only get reminded we’re different when it’s time for my guys to change clothes in the locker room,” Leslie tells ESSENCE, joking about giving her players their privacy. “And then the second time is only in media,” she adds. “People ask me the question about being a woman and I’m like, ‘Oh, what about it?’ because it really is basketball. We all play this sport at such a high level and after a while, it’s like screens and picks and rolls and certain strategies that we all know. And then it’s hard effort and fight and that don’t got nothing to do with being a woman or a man, you know? You either come in and you’re mentally strong about it or you’re not.”
Many women would likely agree it takes a certain level of mental toughness to tolerate men’s locker room talk — or what Leslie calls “grab assing” — but as a mother of a son, she believes it’s also important to give men space to express themselves.
“I kinda just tune out sometimes and let them have their moment without feeling like there’s a woman present and you need to be super respectful. I’m not really on that probably because I played with NBA men all the time. Magic Johnson allowed me to practice with those guys and I never wanted them to feel like they had to be like, ‘Oh sorry, excuse me Lis,’ because I’m in their space. Let them talk about what they want to talk about how they want to say it.
“The biggest thing for me being in men’s space,” Leslie adds, “is my appearance. I do want them to know that I’m a woman. I’m not trying to look like them. I’m not trying to be one of them. Even when I played with men, my outfits were hooked up, my shoe strings were matching, I had ribbon in my hair because I never wanted someone to walk in the gym and go ‘there are 10 men out there. Oh, wait, who’s that girl?’ I like that. I’m okay with that. That’s me being my authentic self.”
Being herself — and allowing her players to do the same — is part of Leslie’s secret sauce as a coach. In addition to starting off the Big3 season with a W, she and Tina Thompson also coached the WNBA All-Stars to victory against the Tokyo-bound U.S. national team earlier this month. Naturally, there’s curiosity about Leslie taking her talents back to the WNBA to coach, or even the NBA, which she says she’s open to at this stage in her career.
“I would never say that I’m not interested. For me, I love being a wife and a mom and I feel like it’s about sacrifices and the age of my children. Obviously, I’ve had those opportunities when my kids were younger and I wasn’t willing to do that. Now as my kids get older and they understand the routine of the house it’s a possibility.”
Check out our full interview with Leslie above as she spills the beans on the skincare routine that keeps her looking flawless at 49 and balancing “10 jobs” along with being a wife and a mom.