Lisa Leslie following through on post-retirement plans
Soon after the Sparks were eliminated from the playoffs and ended what the team unanimously considered a disappointing 2009 season, center Lisa Leslie recalled a conversation with her husband, Michael Lockwood, that captured her present state all too well.
"My husband was like, ‘Well babe, today is the first day of the rest of your life,'" said Leslie, who retired after an accomplished 13-year career in the WNBA that included three league MVPS, two WNBA championships and finishing as the league's all-time leading scorer (6,263 points) and rebounder (3,307 rebounds). "I was like, 'Yeah I guess so. What am I going to do?' I’ve been looking forward to getting my pen and pad. I have all these thoughts that I’ve been waiting to write and hone in on my direction with what I want to do."
That part hasn't been hard. Even before her retirement ended, Leslie knew she wanted to pursue avenues that involved running her self-named basketball academy, broadcasting and public speaking beginning with Covidien, which promotes liver cancer awareness.
Only three weeks since the team's exit interviews, Leslie has made progress on all three fronts. But there are still details to be ironed out.
This is where Leslie has been most active lately, where she says she's made stops in Los Angeles, Atlanta and New York City to speak about her new role with Covidien. It's a cause that has affected Leslie, whose stepfather, Tom Espinoza, died from the disease on Jan. 15, 2001.
"My stepfather didn't have options," she said. "He was released from the hospital and there was nothing we could do. We weren't aware of any developments. So the biggest thing is creating awareness."
"One of the things they offer is a surgical procedure that removes the cancer," Leslie said. "You usually get it every six months depending on the patient. We may have taken that option if we knew about it."
Leslie said she still plans on staying involved with Right to Play, an international organization that promotes sports in hopes to foster growth in communities around the world. She remains open to other causes, such as Breast Health awareness -- a topic she spoke about often during her WNBA career. Nearly 10 years ago, her mother, Christine Leslie-Espinoza, discovered two lumps in her breast. Fortunately, the lumps were benign.
Leslie has already made appearances on ESPN and NBA TV for coverage involving this year's WNBA Finals between the Phoenix Mercury and Indiana Fever.
But she says "we’re still in talks with all the networks and we haven’t agreed to anything."
Leslie has said she would prefer being a studio analyst for NBA and WNBA games but that she's open to all possibilities including color commentating.
Lisa Leslie Basketball Academy
Leslie's website is fielding early registration signups through Nov. 15 that will include a $50 discount. The when, where and how much is still to be determined with Leslie still working out the logistical details, including assembling a coaching staff.
"We're still trying to find the right deal in housing the academy," she said.
During the Sparks' exit interviews, Michael Cooper went back-and-forth fielding questions about his coaching tenure with the Sparks to his current one with the USC's women's basketball team.
One of the topics included Cooper's mention that Leslie could be a part of her coaching staff.
"We’ve talked about using her as a recruiting tool or piece," Cooper said of Leslie, who finished as the Pacific 10 Conference's all-time leading scorer and rebounder for USC. "I think it would be very important. Obviously a former alumni can always come back and help the program. I’ve talked to her about that just briefly. We haven’t discussed it. But I expect in the next couple of days and weeks that we’ll get into that a little bit more. What better tool to have than Lisa Leslie when you’re coming after the top echelon players."
Even the mere mention of the possibility of Leslie joining Cooper's staff was news to her.
"He says things," she said. "He hasn’t talked to me about it. You let me know when the option is available and I'll tell you if it's possible."
Asked if she would be interested in the offer Cooper outlined to the media that involved helping out with recruiting, Leslie said, "I can be essential to any college program and their recruiting process. But we've never talked about it in detail. So I'm not sure I would."
-- Mark Medina
Photo: Lisa Leslie hugs Sparks teammate Noelle Quinn during a victory against Minnesota on Aug. 19. Credit: Chris Pizzello / Associated Press