This Woman’s Work
Heading into her final Playoff series, Lisa Leslie is still the Sparks heart and soul.
It’s September 11, 2009. Magic Johnson touches down in LAX and a guy at the airport does a double take. “Its Magic! What’s he doing here?” This guy asks Magic why he’s not in Springfield welcoming in his new fellow Hall of Famers. Earvin looks at the guy and tells him he’s in L.A. honoring a future Hall of Famer… Lisa Leslie.
All eyes in the basketball world may have been focused on Massachusetts this weekend but another well-deserving basketball pioneer deserved her tribute too. The atmosphere in the Staples Center was buzzing with excitement like it was October 27 already. Lisa received her golden sneakers and a standing ovation in a fitting ceremony. After this finale year Leslie will have more ceremonies to look forward to. There’s the matter of her jersey being retired, and, in a couple years, she will be the one spending a mid-September weekend in Springfield. This time she won’t be joined by The Simpsons.
The WNBA is about to complete its 13th season, and Lisa’s been there since its conception, playing every season with the Los Angeles franchise. Lisa Leslie is the Los Angeles Sparks and she embodies the WNBA.
She’s done more for the WNBA than any other player. Lisa’s the consummate professional, dignified with respect for the game and respect for the right way of life. Lisa’s also a model both in fashion and citizenship. She’s a philanthropist, active in the community. Leslie has as much heart as she has hustle. Even when it was her turn in the spotlight at last weekend’s farewell ceremony, she reminded everybody that it’s all about passing the ball. The NBA could definitely use more players like her.
Let’s not get it twisted, in her day, Lisa could school a lot of NBA guys too. It’s a good thing the League didn’t let her play with the big boys like the PGA Tour let Michelle Wie do in golf, because a lot of guys would have been embarrassed… real embarrassed.
The WNBA may still be on the rise, but a lot of people simply turn their noses up at it. It’s a pity because women can ball too. The WNBA’s current slogan is ‘Expect Great’ and that’s what you get every time you watch a game. This league is no sideshow and these players aren’t pushovers. It’s rich with talent, and Lisa is still the cream of the crop after all these years. The Sparks No. 9 paved the way for so many female basketball players to come through. Fans shouldn’t look at the cheap tickets and sneer, they should look at the affordable tickets as an opportunity to see a basketball great before she calls it a career.
One playoff series, one more run at a championship, one last shot at a ring. Barring a comeback this is all Lisa’s got left. After all she’s achieved for the WNBA, it still comes down to now. Lisa Leslie’s great performances and efforts on and off the court have been so important for the sport for over a decade now. Lisa has been dominant on both ends of the floor, scoring points, grabbing rebounds and blocking shots. She’s the reigning Defensive Player of the Year and she’s still a potent offensive threat.
Leslie devoted herself to honing her skills over the years. She even played in Russia in the ’05-06 offseason just to continue working. Lisa is the perfect role model for young women and men alike. She’s a champion, an MVP and a mother too. A true superwoman like Alicia Keys sang about. Lisa’s an icon in female sports and the poster child for the WNBA. She may not have been only female to grace SLAM’s cover like Chamique Holdsclaw, but she was the first WNBA player to catch a dunk in July of 2002. This was one of the women’s Association’s defining moments, and Lisa owns it.
Lisa Leslie has done it all in the WNBA with career averages of 17.3 ppg and 9.1 rpg. She did it with the enthusiasm, determination, leadership and influence that can not be measured. Leslie’s career includes statistical highs such as 41 points and 29 rebounds and personal highs such as two rings, three MVPS and four Olympic gold medals. Some men remain ignorant to the achievements of women in sports. There’s a problem when the only time a woman graces the cover of Sports Illustrated regularly is when she’s in a swimsuit. Lisa’s 13 strong years at center going to battle in the paint, elbows first can not be passed over. There’s a reason she’s achieved global appeal, there’s a reason she guests on The Simpsons, and there’s a reason her autobiography was called Don’t Let the Lipstick Fool You. These reasons weren’t for gimmicks. Lisa Leslie was and is the real deal.
If it’s hard enough for a player to comeback and rediscover their form after injury, think how hard it is for a player to comeback and rediscover their form after childbirth. This is exactly what Lisa did after sitting out the 2007 season. This was done through hard work and persistence. A strong woman, giving her all to her work and personal life.
She leads all WNBA players in career points and rebounds; she’s been named the Player of the Week a record 14 times. She’s still as dominant and effective in the final weeks of her career then she was in her rookie season. The star of Los Angeles Sparks may as well follow in the footsteps of Los Angeles Laker legend Jerry West and have her silhouette integrated into the WNBA logo. Taking nothing away from WNBA greats like Diana Taurasi or Sue Bird, Lisa’s popularity and appeal makes it clear that in the WNBA, she is the man… so to speak.
She helped spearhead the global appeal of female basketball. Just like she dominated in the league, she dominated in the Olympics. Lisa is the first athlete as a member of a team to win four consecutive Olympic Gold medals. If Lisa is dismissed by narrow minded fans as someone who doesn’t deserve legendary status, then these same fans need to dust off her trophy cabinet.
Lisa has led the first 10 years of the WNBA and her legend will last throughout more decades. She is an influence to players in the league and players coming up. Her worldwide appeal and influence has helped more girls pick up a basketball when everyone else was telling them it was just a man’s game.
One young woman this eight-time All-Star influenced is fellow Spark’s teammate Candace Parker. What more can be said about this young sophomore? She (herself coming back after child birth) is dominating and getting better and better. This reigning MVP and Rookie of the Year is the future of the WNBA’s next decade, and she could bring the game even more popularity and worldwide appeal. The more her star rises the WNBA’s stock will rise. If Candace is the LeBron James of the woman’s game then Lisa Leslie is the Michael Jordan. Lisa influenced and inspired Candace while she was growing up and hoop dreaming. Today in her last years Lisa is mentoring Candace is her first years. They form the perfect partnership — the legend and the star. Their games compliment each other and they give the Sparks the talent to go far and the league the star power to attract more fans. If only they had more time together. Think of the excitement, think of the dominance, think of the rings.
But this is the last chance for this particular partnership to obtain that elusive ring for the L.A. Sparks. How fitting and deserving would it be for Lisa if Los Angeles won it all this year? This is Lisa’s last dance and she knows all the right steps. The Sparks take on the Seattle Storm this week. Before Lisa retires and passes the torch to Candace once and for all, she will have one more chance to show the world how good she really is.