Lisa Leslie has a long history of being first. The three-time WNBA MVP was the first to dunk in a WNBA game, the first player in WNBA history to record 6,000 points, the first female basketball player to win four consecutive gold medals and the first player to win the regular-season MVP, the All-Star Game MVP and the Finals MVP in the same WNBA season. Last year, Leslie became the first former WNBA player to invest in a WNBA team when she joined the ownership group of the Los Angeles Sparks, the team she played on for 11 years.
Next month, Leslie will take part in another first: her first WNBA draft as a team owner. The Sparks will have the first pick in the draft after a disappointing 2011 season. It’s the first time the Sparks have had the top pick since 2008, when the team selected Candace Parker. “It’s great for our franchise,” Leslie said. “I think it’s much-needed with me retiring and Candace having really the weight of the world on her to do well. With her injuries, we’ve just had some really tough seasons that we’re not used to having, so it will be great to see.”
“We obviously can pick a player who will be able to come in and add to our success,” Leslie said. “I can’t say who, but I believe the choices we have are great.” Leslie will be at the Final Four, both as a fan and a team executive. She will have a meet and greet with fans at 1:45 p.m. Sunday at Tourney Town before signing autographs at 2:30 p.m. at the Capital One Fan Zone. Then, Leslie will head off to the semifinals (6:30 p.m. ET Sunday, ESPN). Though both games will be chock-full of talent, with four No. 1 seeds advancing to Denver, Leslie has her eye on one semifinal in particular.
Leslie has stayed involved with the Sparks after her retirement in 2009, particularly with the team’s sponsors. As a result, the transition from player to owner has been fairly smooth. Though Leslie makes everything look easy, there have been a few hiccups as she gets used to her new role. “I’ve been able to see [the differences] wearing a different hat as opposed to being a player, where the concerns are obviously a lot different,” Leslie said. “It’s also played a part in how I communicate, what I say on Twitter, who I respond to.
“As an owner, I have to remember that I’m not just representing myself as a player anymore and there are certain things I probably shouldn’t chime in on. For example, when the guys were in the lockout, I’m like, ‘Yeah, let them play!’ and I thought, ‘Oh, oh, oh yeah, I probably shouldn’t encourage that.’ I’m learning as I go, but I’m really enjoying having the position that I have.”