WNBA Stalwart, Lisa Leslie, To Retire

The WNBA will lose one of its star players after the summer season. The Los Angeles Sparks Center Lisa Leslie announced her retirement this past week. She talks about scoring the league's first slam dunk and voices concern about financial cutbacks and the trimming of team rosters.

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JACKI LYDEN, host:

Even the sports world isn't immune from surging unemployment. Take women's basketball. The WNBA has already lost one of its 14 teams this off-season. The Houston Comets folded. On top of that, the league trimmed each team's roster from 13 players to 11 - meaning that one out of every five player slots will be gone when the new season starts in June.

And this coming season will also be the last one for one of the WNBA stalwarts, a woman who won three Most Valuable Player awards, four Olympic gold medals - and she did this.

(Soundbite of crowd cheering)

Unidentified Man #1: What's she going to do? She dunks it. For the first time in WNBA history, someone has dunked.

LYDEN: And that's Lisa Leslie delivering the first-ever dunk in the WNBA, and Lisa Leslie is with us now from Dallas. Welcome.

Ms. LISA LESLIE (WNBA Player, Los Angeles Sparks): Thanks for having me.

LYDEN: Lisa, I know you probably get asked this a lot, but could I just take you back to that moment in 2002, when you got the ball at midcourt, and ask you what was going through your mind?

Ms. LESLIE: I remember we were down, and I was just upset that we were losing. And we had a nice defensive play by one of my teammates. And I ran out ahead, and she threw me the ball, but I really wanted to just dunk the ball because I was mad, and I wanted to really inspire my teammates, so that's when I threw it down.

LYDEN: It's really an exciting moment. It was fun looking at all of the YouTube versions of it.

This week, you announced you'd make this your last season. You were one of the marquee talents when the league was created. I know you've had a hild, and yet, this has got to be a difficult decision, deciding to retire.

Ms. LESLIE: Oh, I feel really great about my decision because I feel that I've given the basketball world everything. For 24 years, I've been playing this game, and I played as hard as I could. I've played it, you know, with no regret. I tried to be the most versatile player, and so I just feel like this is a really good time while I'm still effective, I can still block shots, I can still play defense, and I can still score points, and I just don't want to be out there when I'm not able to do that and contribute to my team in a very effective way.

LYDEN: What's your perspective, Lisa, on the health of the league - the Houston Comets folding after all those championships, the roster cuts? Are you worried about the WNBA's future?

Ms. LESLIE: As we can see, the economy has affected not only, you know, everyone who works regular jobs, as we call it, but also the sports world because we feel, really, very fortunate that we get a chance to play a sport that we love, and that's our job. We actually get paid to do it. And it's unfortunate how many young women won't have that opportunity to do that this year in the WNBA because of the cutback.

LYDEN: There was a lot of star power in the WNBA early on. There was you, Sheryl Swoopes, Rebecca Lobo. Both of them are out of the league, now you're going. Who do you think picks up the mantle?

Ms. LESLIE: Well, I'm very proud to say that my teammate Candace Parker and I are very close, and I think that she is a phenomenal player, as we've seen this past season. And I'm really looking forward to seeing her grow in the future and hopefully, become the face of the WNBA.

LYDEN: And Candace has dunked, too, we might point out.

Ms. LESLIE: Yes. Candace has dunked twice, and I'm sure she will dunk a lot more, but right now her belly is full with a baby in it so, so we really look forward to having Candace back out there on the floor.

LYDEN: You just had your daughter, Lauren, 19 months ago, and having a baby is a big impact on an athlete, something that the male athletes do not have to do. How did you go through it?

Ms. LESLIE: Well, it's not easy. I ended up having to have a Caesarean because Lauren was breech. So, I started out with barely being able to walk, and then I could barely jog. There was times where, you know, my hips felt a little loose, jumping and lateral movement was not the easiest for me. So, I'm just competitive, and I worked really hard so that I could play at the level that my teammates needed me to play at.

LYDEN: Lisa Leslie is the center with the Los Angeles Sparks, and she'll be retiring after this summer season. Thanks for your time, and good luck to you.

Ms. LESLIE: Thanks for having me.

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