MAKERS Profile

Lisa Leslie

Champion Basketball Player

In this video

WNBA pioneer Lisa Leslie on how she discovered basketball, became a college superstar, and reached one of her dreams by winning Olympic gold. With the establishment of the WNBA, Leslie was able to go professional as a founding player and eventually--and unprecedentedly--as an owner.
In 2002,  Lisa Leslie became the first WNBA player to dunk a basketball. Throughout her trailblazing career, she was many firsts: the first WNBA player to win the regular season MVP, the All-Star Game MVP and the playoff MVP in the same season. In 2002, she was the WNBA all-time leading scorer and was named MVP of the WNBA Championship.   Leslie grew up in Compton, California raised by a single mother who was an early role model in strength and femininity. Six-foot in sixth grade, people constantly asked Leslie if she played basketball. A self-proclaimed nerd, Leslie finally decided join her junior high team when she realized it could be a plus for her social life, and by eighth grade she had fallen in love with the sport and committed herself to the game.   At Morningside High School, Leslie led her team to two state championships and was recruited with a scholarship to play basketball at the University of Southern California where she set several Pac-10 conference records for points and rebounds and was named the 1994 National Player of the Year.   In 1996, Leslie made her first Olympic team and brought home gold. She went on to repeat gold medal Olympic wins in 2000, 2004, and 2008.   In 1997, Leslie became one of the WNBA's first players, joining the Los Angeles Sparks and leading an impressive career with the team scoring more than 6,200 points during her twelve years with the WNBA. In 2009, she retired but returned to the Sparks in 2011, not as a player, but as an investor and owner.

More From Lisa

Lipstick Tucked in Her Bra
Leslie's mother was an early role model for her when it came to femininity and strength. Although Leslie's mother worked more masculine jobs, she always wore lipstick.

A Dunk is a Dunk
As younger generations grow up with the WNBA, Leslie has noticed that people--even Dwyane Wade and Lebron James--have respect for anyone, male or female, who can play the sport, and especially for those who can dunk.

Pregnant On the Court
Leslie shares her experience being pregnant during one of her WNBA seasons and how she learned she could adjust as a new mom and get back on the court.

Responsible Big Sister
Leslie was a "latchkey kid" often responsible for taking care of her younger sister when her mother was on the road.

Motivated By Family
She was only an eighth grader, but Leslie's cousin and uncle believed in her talent and motivated her to practice and commit to the sport. 

The Lakers and Big Game James
Growing up, women's basketball didn't exist on television, but Leslie was greatly inspired by the Lakers, especially James Worthy.

From High Jump to Slam Dunk
Leslie remembers when her high school track practice was moved indoors and how she--and the rest of the school--first learned she could dunk.

Cut from the Team
Although Leslie was cut from two Olympic try outs, she found the positive opportunities in her moments of failure.

Coach Stanley Fired
Leslie shares the impact of her University of Southern California women's coach Marianne Stanley being fired for demanding equal pay to that of the men's basketball coach.

Women's Uphill Battle for Space
Leslie explains how just signing an autograph for a little boy can help change the mindset and inspire a change in the future of leadership.

Tears on the Olympic Podium
At first Leslie could not understand why Olympic champions cried on the podium until she experienced the overwhelming emotions of an Olympic win herself. 

3-On-3 with Spike Lee
Spike Lee shot a commercial starring Leslie, Sheryl Swoopes, and Rebecca Lobo where the women played games of three-on-three against all-male teams. It was the best commercial Leslie ever shot.