Lisa Leslie Biography

Los Angeles Sparks center Lisa Leslie blocks the shot of Sue Wicks of the New York Liberty during a Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) game. Leslie led the Sparks to back-to-back WNBA championships in 2001 and 2002, and during the 2002 season she became the first player in league history to dunk during a game.

Lisa Leslie, born in 1972, American professional basketball player, considered one of the best players in the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA). A leading scorer and rebounder throughout her career, the 6-ft 5-in (196-cm) center has led the United States women’s basketball team to three Olympic gold medals and the Los Angeles Sparks to a pair of WNBA championships.

Lisa Deshaun Leslie was born in Hawthorne, California, near Los Angeles. Leslie was marked for greatness by high school, where she earned All-American honors and once scored 101 points in one half of a game. From 1990 to 1994 she attended the University of Southern California (USC), setting league records in scoring, rebounds, and blocked shots and leading her team to postseason play every year. In 1994 she was the consensus national college player of the year.

Because the United States had no professional basketball league for women at the time, Leslie played for a team in Alcamo, Italy, in 1994 and 1995. In 1996 she was a key member of the U.S. squad that captured the gold medal at the Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia. The following year Leslie was signed by the newly created WNBA and assigned to her hometown team, the Los Angeles Sparks. In her first season Leslie led the league in rebounds and was second in blocked shots, earning WNBA First Team honors. She repeated her accomplishments in rebounds and blocks in 1998. In 2000 she helped the U.S. team to another Olympic gold medal at the Games in Sydney, Australia.

After Los Angeles suffered disappointing losses to the Houston Comets in the Western Conference Finals in both 1999 and 2000, critics blamed Leslie’s unaggressive style of play. In response she began an intensive training regimen, including on-court workouts with Sparks coach Michael Cooper, a former standout in the National Basketball Association (NBA). The extra training paid off: In 2001 Leslie led the Sparks to a 39-5 record and the franchise’s first league title. She also became the first player to win all three WNBA most valuable player (MVP) awards in the same year—regular season, Championship Series, and All-Star Game.

On July 30, 2002, Leslie made history when she became the first WNBA player to slam dunk in a professional game. Leslie and the Sparks successfully defended their championship title in 2002, sweeping the New York Liberty in two straight games in the WNBA Finals. That year Leslie became the first WNBA player to score 3,000 career points and was again named MVP of the All-Star Game and the Championship Series.

Leslie’s third gold medal with the U.S. Olympic team came at the 2004 Games in Athens, Greece. The same year she won her second MVP award in the WNBA, averaging 17.6 points and 9.9 rebounds per game.

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