Lisa Leslie's lifelong impact on women's basketball and athletics is being celebrated by the BET Network. The WNBA legend was given the Award for Athletics as part of 2013 BET Honors Show that recognizes distinguished African Americans who perform at exceptional levels. Leslie was part of a celebrity line-up of honorees that also included music-industry executive Clarence Avant, Oscar-winning actor Halle Berry, mega-church minister and humanitarian T.D. Jakes and 10-time Grammy award-winning artist Chaka Khan.
Leslie, a three-time All-American at the University of Southern California, finished her collegiate career as the all-time leader in points, rebounds and blocked shots in what was then the Pac 10. When she graduated in 1994 as the National Player of the Year, there was no women's professional basketball league in the United States. With both the American Basketball League (1996-1998) and the Women's National Basketball Association (1997-present) still several years in the future, Leslie played for a season in Italy and launched a modeling career with the Wilhellmina Agency.
Meanwhile, the 6-5 center continued to play amateur basketball in international competition, becoming one of the most decorated athletes in USA Basketball history. Among many other honors, she represented the United States at the 1996 (Atlanta), 2000 (Sydney), 2004 (Athens) and 2008 (Beijing) Olympics, becoming the first female U.S. basketball player to earn four Olympic gold medals. Leslie, who never suffered a loss in Olympic competition, remains the all-time leader in both points and rebounds on the U.S. Women's Olympic Team.
When the WNBA was launched in 1997, Leslie became one of the league's cornerstone players, assigned to the Los Angeles Sparks in the league's initial player allocation that preceded the 1997 WNBA Elite and college drafts. Over her 11-year pro career, the 6-5 center led the Sparks to back-to-back WNBA Championships in 2001 and 2002, an achievement that has not been repeated by any team since then. A three-time WNBA MVP and a seven-time WNBA All-Star, in 2001, Leslie became the first WNBA player to win the regular-season MVP, All-Star Game MVP and WNBA Finals MVP awards in the same season. The following year, she threw down the first dunk in WNBA history. In 2002 she also became the first player in league history to score 3,000 points, and subsequently went on to become the first to reach the 4,000, 5,000 and 6,000-career-point marks.
In 2008, after taking a season off to give birth to her first child, Lauren Jolie, Leslie returned to the court, playing at or near the peak of her game: She led the league in blocks per game (2.9 per game), came second in rebounding (8.9 per game), was named to the All-WNBA first team, and also earned her second selection as the league's Defensive Player of the Year that season. The following year, she announced her retirement from basketball, stepping down as the league's all-time leader in both scoring (6,263 points) and rebounding (3,307 rebounds) and second only to now-deceased 7-2 center Margo Dydek in career blocks (822). Though her scoring record has since been surpassed by her former high school, college and Los Angeles Sparks teammate Tina Thompson, Leslie's rebounding record still stands. The Sparks' home court was renamed "Lisa Leslie Court" in her honor and her jersey hangs in the rafters of Staples Center alongside those of L.A. Lakers legends. Her legacy lives on: In 2011, two years after her retirement, Leslie, who had previously been named to the WNBA's All-Decade Team, was voted one of the Top 15 Players of All Time in a celebration of the league's 15th anniversary. Her famous dunk also came in at No. 3 in a fan vote of the top 15 moments in the league's history.
The daughter of Christine Leslie-Espinoza, a breast-cancer survivor who worked as a truck driver to support her three children as a single mother and the woman whom Leslie still regards as the person she most admires, Leslie, who did not pick up a basketball until middle school, gained national attention after scoring 101 points in the first half of a game for Inglewood's Morningside High School.
Off the court, the legend is married to former Air Force captain Michael Lockwood. Together, the couple has two children, Lauren Jolie, now five, and two-year-old Michael Joseph ("M.J."), Lisa also considers herself a mother to Lockwood's two teenaged daughters, Mikaela and Gabrielle, from a previous marriage. Shortly before retiring in 2009, Leslie authored an autobiography, Don't Let the Lipstick Fool You. Since hanging up the hightops, Leslie, who holds an MBA in Business Administration as well as a bachelor's degree in communication, has served as a basketball commentator and analyst for a variety of television sports programs and launched the Lisa Leslie Basketball and Leadership Academy. In 2011, the woman long known as "the face of women's basketball" also became a minority owner of the team she helped lead to two WNBA championships.
The BET Honors was taped at the historic Warner Theatre in Washington, D.C. and will premiere on February 11, 2013 at 9 P.M. Eastern during Black History Month on the BET Network.
Red carpet interview with the "Digital Diva".
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 12: (L-R) Lisa Leslie and Anthony Anderson onstage at BET Honors 2013 at Warner Theatre on January 12, 2013 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Kris Connor/Getty Images for BET)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 12: (L-R) Lisa Leslie, T.D. Jakes, Halle Berry, Clarence Avant and Chaka Khan onstage at BET Honors 2013 at Warner Theatre on January 12, 2013 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images for BET)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 12: (L-R) Lisa Leslie, T.D. Jakes, Halle Berry, Clarence Avant and Chaka Khan onstage at BET Honors 2013 at Warner Theatre on January 12, 2013 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Bennett Raglin/Getty Images for BET)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 12: (L-R) Gabrielle Union, Lisa Leslie, T.D. Jakes, Halle Berry, Clarence Avant and Chaka Khan onstage at BET Honors 2013 at Warner Theatre on January 12, 2013 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Kris Connor/Getty Images for BET)