Lisa Leslie has made a huge impact in women’s college basketball and the WNBA. In her great career she has four Olympic gold medals, three WNBA MVP awards, two WNBA titles, and was the first WNBA player to reach the 6,000 point plateau. She now is a co-owner of the Los Angeles Sparks, the team she played for in the WNBA.
Lisa was able to chat with me about her career, the NCAA Women’s Tournament, and her work with Capital One to help raise scholarship money for student athletes.
Art Eddy: You have so many accolades in your great career. You have four Olympic gold medals, three WNBA MVP awards, two WNBA Titles, and the list can go on and on. Do any of those stand out more to you in your long list of accomplishments?
Lisa Leslie: Well I just really enjoyed the rewards of basketball more than all the awards that I achieved. I have received so many, but I enjoyed the role of being a role model and giving back to our community and to our country.
Just doing what is right. I think it is important to recognize that with your celebrity and talent there becomes a responsibility to make people around you better and to give back to our kids and promote education.
AE: You were there from the beginning when the WNBA started. What is your take on how the league evolved from 1997 to the present?
LL: I think that the biggest thing is social media. You can see what people think. They want instant gratification. They will talk about you. Branding is very important in this day and age as we transition from college basketball and into the WNBA. You have to recognize that you are a brand and a commodity. You have to treat your game and your body that way. You have to take care of it and hone your skills. You have to continue to learn. It’s a job and that is probably the biggest thing that the players have to learn. It is a job and you are not guaranteed to have a job.
AE: You played for the Los Angeles Sparks and now you are the co-owner of the team. How has your experience as a player helped you as a co-owner of the team?
LL: It’s helped a lot mostly in my networking skills. As a player I would always return emails, go to the meetings, and be where I was supposed to be on time. I think that has really helped and translated once I moved over to still continue those contacts and trying to get them to come out and support the WNBA. I think it has been a natural transition for me. I am very happy to be part of the Sparks owner organization.
AE: The end of the month we will see the NCAA Tournament start up. Baylor, Notre Dame, Connecticut, and Stanford are the number one seeds. Who out of those four do you think has the best shot at winning it all?
LL: Earlier in this season if you asked me I would have said UConn. I thought UConn would have been the hungriest. I thought that they had enough pieces, but once I saw Baylor play UConn I knew Baylor is on a mission. They truly know how to win. They understand who they are position wise, where that ball needs to be, and when it needs to get inside to Brittney (Griner).
Brittney has figured out how a way when she is not effective in the first half how to be effective in the second half. So I am going to have to switch over and I am going to pick Baylor for a repeat. Brittney Griner has really changed the games of woman’s basketball.
AE: Who is your Cinderella team for this year?
LL: I look at two different teams. One is Delaware with Elena Delle Donne. North Carolina is a very good team, but they are a young team. They could get a little stage fright. They are in that second round that could be an upset.
Kentucky they really have to bring the A game and stay on their p’s and q’s. They are an athletic team. They can get up and down. They do a nice full court press. That could be a nice upset. Duke’s Chelsea Gray is hurt. With her being hurt they could run into Texas A&M and that could be an upset.
AE: Do you have a favorite round in the March Madness tournament?
LL: I usually like the second round a lot. In the first round the wins are so lopsided. You feel like that team should have not gotten in. People get turned off when it is too big of a margin of a win. The second round is always that round where nerves start to set in. I think round two is where you always find an upset or an underdog that comes out of nowhere. Of course I always love the final four.
AE: You are working with Capital One for the Capital One Cup. Tell me a bit about that promotion.
LL: It is really about rewarding the best of Division I athletic programs for their cumulative on field performance across 39 total of women and men teams and their standings. What it means in layman’s terms is which school has the bragging rights at the end of the year. I would love to say that USC would have the number one spot in the Capital One Cup, but they are not. I love the fact that we can measure what school truly has the best performance across each sport for men and women. The Capital One Cup allows us to do that.
Last year it was Stanford’s women team who won and for men’s it was Florida. The school that wins are rewarded $400,000 total in scholarships for those student athletes. These athletes can then go on an further their education.
To listen to entire interview click here.