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Lisa Leslie

USA Basketball Book Club: Don’t Let the Lipstick Fool You

  • Date:
    Jun 30, 2021

The purpose of the USA Basketball Book Club is to share stories from and about members of the USA Basketball family. USA Basketball does not endorse the sale or purchase of these books nor the opinions expressed in them. Catch up on previous reads: The Spencer Haywood RuleThe Mamba Mentality | Standing Tall | Sum It Up | Secret Warrior

The Basics
Published in February 2009, “Don’t Let the Lipstick Fool You” by Lisa Leslie and Larry Burnett tells the story of one of the greatest basketball players to take the court – who’s legacy was important, impactful and recent – including Leslie winning her fourth Olympic gold medal at the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008.

While the book’s title certainly refers to Leslie’s preference for stylish colors in her off-court fashion choices being contrasted with her toughness on the court, Leslie also has been mistaken as too skinny to battle in the post, and the metaphor applies there, too. Throughout her basketball career, opponents learned not to underestimate Leslie. She was a dominant force in all aspects of the game, and this book walks you through her journey as a California kid to the top of the basketball ranks.

Leslie is a three-time WNBA MVP who played her entire career with the Los Angeles Sparks, where she won two WNBA championships over the course of 11 WNBA seasons. She was the first player to dunk in a WNBA game, and she was inducted into the Naismith and Women’s Basketball Halls of Fame in 2015 and the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Hall of Fame in 2019.

This also is a family story, featuring those who were a part of Leslie’s journey as she grew up, and through adulthood. By the book’s end, Leslie has yet to win her fourth Olympic gold medal at the 2008 Olympic Games, but she has built a full and complete life personally and professionally.

Labeled from an Early Age
“I was labeled as a finesse player who did not like contact from the day I started playing basketball. I did not consider it an insult. I was used to it. I knew my opponents were going to be physical, so I had to focus on emphasizing my assets. I was faster, so I could outrun them and get layups. I had better footwork, and I could step outside and shoot, or drive around them, to score. To me, physical play is just one aspect of the game.”

Those skills Leslie honed as a kid playing basketball in California led to an 89-31 overall record at the University of Southern California during her four seasons with the Trojans. USC made four NCAA Tournaments, and advanced as far as the 1992 and 1994 Elite Eights. Leslie was the unanimous 1994 National Player of the Year as a senior and earned 1991 National Freshman of the Year honors in her rookie season. She earned All-America honors in 1992, 1993 and 1994 and, after being named as the Pacific-10 Conference Freshman of the Year, became the first player in Pacific-10 history to receive all-conference first team honors in all four years.

Game Changer
One of the faces of the launch of the WNBA in 1997, Lisa Leslie helped to make the birth of the WNBA possible with her popularity and her commitment growing the game. Prior to kicking off her string of four Olympic gold medals in 1996, she was a member of the historic 1995-96 USA Basketball Women’s National Team that tallied a 52-0 record and traveled more than 100,000 miles and to seven countries while preparing for the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta.

Leslie herself, however, born in 1972, did emerge on a scene that had featured other female athletes – for example Cynthia Cooper, but Leslie points to earlier athletes who paved the way in the 1930s, 1950s and 1970s.

“The true pioneers in women’s sports are people like Babe Didrickson Zaharias, Billy Jean King, Althea Gibson, Ann Meyers, Evelyn Ashford, Nancy Lieberman and Pat Summitt. There was no Title IX to bar gender inequality for these women, and they battled the worst kinds of discrimination. The rest of us are riding on their coattails, and we should appreciate them every day.”

USA Basketball
Leslie won four-straight gold medals as a member of the 1996, 2000, 2004 and 2008 U.S. Olympic Women’s Basketball Teams and also claimed gold medals at the 1998 and 2002 FIBA World Cups and was named FIBA World Cup MVP in 2002.

“I saw every one of my experiences with USA Basketball as an opportunity for me to grow as a person and as a player.”

Her individual performance often was a difference maker between a U.S. win and loss. Earning her first Olympic gold medal in 1996 at age 24, she led the team in scoring (19.5 points per game), and she went on to lead the USA in scoring in 2000 (15.8 ppg.) and 2004 (15.6 ppg.). She remained a double-digit scorer at the 2008 Olympics with 10.1 ppg. as the U.S. team’s oldest member at age 36.

She went 32-0 in Olympic games and averaged 15.3 ppg., 7.5 rpg. and 1.2 bpg. in her Olympic career. Through the 2016 Olympics, Leslie is one of just five U.S. women to have played in four or more Olympic basketball competitions.

“I loved playing with this national team because we were a very sisterly team. We hung out together, played cards, talked trash, and gave each other advice. We had played together for so long that we were like a little family. The veterans played hard, and they were not afraid to teach the younger players like me what they knew. There was no ego; everyone just wanted to win. And the high intensity of their game made me want to elevate mine.”

A Note about Dawn Staley
Now the U.S. Olympic Women’s Basketball Team head coach, Dawn Staley and Leslie first played with USA Basketball at the same time, getting their start together with the 1989 USA U19 National Team that went 3-4 and finished seventh at the 1989 FIBA U19 World Cup. Neither athlete ever finished in seventh place with a USA team again, and the duo won 1996, 2000 and 2004 Olympic gold medals as athletes together. In 2008, as Leslie won her fourth Olympic gold medal as a player, Staley had transitioned to the sidelines and won that gold medal as a USA assistant coach. They also played together on the 1998 and 2002 USA World Cup Teams.

“Both Dawn and I made the junior national team, and over the next fifteen years, we would go on to be teammates for numerous USA Basketball adventures. Every time we made a team, we roomed together and laughed and giggled all summer long. It was as if we had a routine: play basketball, win games, earn medals, and go back to our respective homes. We played all over the world together, earning gold medals at the Olympics, world championships and Goodwill Games. I guess you could call us the Golden Girls. In any regard, that is a lot to accomplish with the same teammate.”

For the Coaches
Leslie found inspiration for her own toughness from many different people, and she also found that she preferred a coach who also could be tough, especially since her goal always was to be getting better as an all-around basketball player.

“I needed a strong coach who was going to help me become a better basketball player. I had experienced different coaches in the USA Basketball system, and I found that I truly loved working with passionate coaches who stressed discipline and had some intensity to them.”

Coaches and fans will find a lot that interests them in Leslie’s stories, and athletes will recognize her stories of hard work, sacrifice and the joy of celebrating success.


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