On Monday in Indianapolis, the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame announced that retired WNBA player Lisa Leslie will be one of the 11 members of the Class of 2015. Leslie joins a class which includes Kentucky men's basketball head coach John Calipari; retired NBA players Dikembe Mutombo, Spencer Haywood, and Jo Jo White; and long-time NBA referee Dick Bavetta.
Leslie spent 13 seasons with the Los Angeles Sparks from 1997-2009. During that time, she won two WNBA championships in 2001 and 2002; three WNBA Most Valuable Player awards in 2001, 2004, and 2006; eight WNBA All-Star appearances; and a fan-voted honor as one of the WNBA's Top 15 Players of all time in 2011. She also won four Olympic Gold Medal with the USA Basketball women's national team in 1996, 2000, 2004, and 2008.
"Yes, I'm thankful to hopefully be inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame and the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame*. It's just a great honor," Leslie said in a phone interview with Swish Appeal on Monday morning just one hour before the official announcement. "I'm very humble, but I'm very thankful."
Leslie went on to give credit to her past coaches and teammates. "I really wouldn't be here if it weren't for them."
One of Leslie's many teammates was Dawn Staley, a point guard who was also part of the 1996, 2000, and 2004 Olympic teams. In another interview Swish Appeal had with her last Thursday, Leslie noted that Staley was "a leader and a coach to me on the court. Whatever instructions that she’s given me, I’ve always followed them." Staley is now the head coach of the South Carolina women's' basketball team, which made the Final Four this season.
The fact that Leslie was a listener, as well as a leader showed that she was always tried to be a great teammate on and off the court.
"That's really all you can ask for, is for a person to be consistent," Leslie continued. "I hang my hat on that because I didn't like it when I couldn't rely on what kind of [person] was going to show up every day. I tried to be a consistent person, and I tried to be a consistent player."
Consistency and durability were something that defined Leslie's career. From 1997-2009, she played in 361 out of a possible 424 games. Of the games she missed, 34 of them were for the 2007 season when her daughter, Lauren Lolie Lockwood was born. Of the remaining 390 games she could have appeared in, Leslie played in 361 of them -- a rate of over 92.5%.
When you combine her durability with her production and accolades on the court, it becomes clear that Leslie is more than deserving to be part of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame's Class of 2015.
Before our interview ended, Leslie mentioned that she would not travel from Tampa to Indianapolis where the NCAA Men's Final Four was held. She wished that the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame Class of 2015's announcement would have been held in Tampa instead.
"I don't think that I should have to go to the Men's Final Four, to be honest. That's probably one thing I will fight about. As an activist for women's sports, there should have been an honor at the Women's Final Four because I couldn't do a ceremony at the Men's Final Four."
I certainly agree.
*Leslie will be inducted into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame as a member of the Class of 2015 on June 13, 2015 in Knoxville, Tennessee. We will also have another piece with Leslie previewing Tuesday's national championship game between UConn and Notre Dame later today.