Early yearsLeslie is the daughter of Christine Lauren Leslie, who started her own truck driving business to support her three children, and Walter Leslie, a semiprofessional basketball player. Walter left the family when her mother was four months pregnant with her. Lisa's mother stood 6 ft 5 in. Leslie has two sisters: Dionne, who is five years older, and Tiffany, who is eight years younger. Lisa played basketball on an all boy basketball team in middle school. She also played on an all-girls team with the record 33-1.
High schoolBy the time Leslie was in middle school in California, she had grown to over 6'1" but never participated in athletic activities besides tether ball and double Dutch. Her dream then was to be a television weather reporter.
During the first few weeks of junior high, a classmate begged Leslie to help out the basketball team. On her first day of basketball tryouts, team members were told to split into two groups for layup drills: lefties and righties. Leslie was the only lefty in the "lefty" group, so from then on, she decided to become right-hand dominant so she would not have to stand in a line by herself. That decision worked to her advantage, as she became ambidextrous.
In eighth grade, she transferred to a junior high school without a girls' basketball team, and joined a boys' basketball team. Her success there contributed to her confidence in her playing abilities.
At 14, before Leslie had even started high school at Morningside, she received more than a hundred college recruiting letters, including some from top Division I programs at the University of Tennessee and Stanford University.
Leslie continued her education in 1986 by enrolling at Morningside High School in Inglewood, California. She made an immediate impact on the basketball program, starting every game for the girl's varsity team. She also found time to join the volleyball team and compete in track and field. She ended up being a state qualifier in the 400-meter run and the high jump.
By the time she was a sophomore in high school, she was able to dunk the ball in the open court, even though she was not able to palm the ball. She was her team's leading scorer and rebounder and led them to the 1989 California state championship. Leslie was so talented that she was invited to participate in the USA's Junior World Championship team. Entering her senior year, she developed into the top player in the country. She led her team to a state championship averaging 27 points and 15 rebounds per game.
CollegeLeslie decided to stay close to home and attend women's basketball powerhouse the University of Southern California from 1990–1994. She graduated from USC with a bachelor's degree in communications and later completed her master's degree in business administration from the University of Phoenix.
Leslie played in a total of 120 college games, averaging 20.1 points, hitting 53.4% of her shots, and knocking down 69.8% of her free throws. She set the Pac-10 conference records for scoring, rebounding, and blocked shots accumulating 2,414 points, 1,214 boards, and 321 blocked shots. She also holds the USC single season record for blocked shots in a single season (95).
During her college career, USC compiled an impressive 89–31 record. They won one Pac-10 conference championship and earned four NCAA tournament appearances. Leslie was honored with All Pac-10 recognition all four years, as well as becoming the first player in Pac-10 history to obtain first team all four years and earn the prestigious Rookie of the Year award in 1991. Leslie was also honored on the national platform by earning the National Freshman of the year award in 1991, and recognition as the nation's best female basketball player earning the National Player of the year in 1994. In 1992, 93, and 94, she earned All-American Honors as well.
USA BasketballLeslie was a member of the USA team competing at the 1991 World University Games held in Sheffield, England. Leslie was the second leading scorer on the USA squad, averaging 13.0 points per game, and helped the Tara VanDerveer coached team to an 8–0 record and the gold medal.
She competed with USA Basketball as a member of the 1992 Jones Cup Team that won the Gold in Taipei for the first time since 1987.
WNBAThe WNBA was incorporated in 1996 and commenced play in 1997. Leslie was drafted on January 22 by the Los Angeles Sparks as part of the Initial Allocation phase of the draft. She helped the Sparks make the playoffs five consecutive times, but the team did not win a WNBA title until 2001. That year, Leslie was named the 2001 Sportswoman of the Year (in the team category) by the Women's Sports Foundation.
On July 12, 2002, Leslie became the first woman to dunk the ball in a WNBA game. That same year she became the first WNBA player to score over 3,000 total career points and contributed to the Sparks winning their second straight world championship that season. Two seasons later, she became the first player to reach the 4,000-career point milestone. Leslie remains the Sparks' career scoring and rebounding leader, as well as the all time league leader in rebounds. On August 11, 2009, Leslie became the first player to score 6,000 points in a career. Earlier that month she was the first player to reach 10,000 career PRA (points + rebounds + assists), a statistic fundamental to the WNBA "Pick One Challenge" fantasy game.
Lisa Leslie announced her retirement effective at the end of the 2009 season on February 4, 2009. The Sparks held a farewell ceremony for Leslie during their final home game of the season in September. She finished holding the league records for points (6,263), rebounds (3,307) and PRA (10,444). In 2011, she was voted in by fans as one of the Top 15 players in the fifteen-year history of the WNBA.