Meet Lisa Leslie, First Player To Dunk A Basketball In WNBA's History

Lisa Leslie was the first woman in WNBA history to dunk in a game, but she's so much more than that dunk. A Basketball player, a model, a writer, a coach and a speaker, she's all sorts of inspiring.

Paawani Gupta
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Lisa Leslie

Image Credits: Left to Right (Guiding Partnerships, IMDb, Fadeaway World)

Lisa Leslie alongside Sheryl Swoopes and Rebecca Lobo were the faces of the newly formed WNBA in 1996. The Women's National Basketball Association was the counterpart of the National Basketball Association which started playing in the league from 1997, a year after they were founded. 


What is a 'Slam Dunk?'

For readers who are not aware what a 'dunk' looks like, it is a style in basketball through which the player makes a basket directly in the net. The term dunk was first coined in basketball by the Lakers announcer Chick Hearn in the 1960s as an extremely hard style by the players to master in order to score. It is a technique when the players leap in the air horizontally to the basket rim and directly put the ball inside the basket by their hands while in the air. Lisa Leslie was the first player to use this style in the WNBA.

Lisa's Stature of 6ft Inspired Her to Play Basketball at the Age of 12

Lisa Leslie has made history and she continues to carry her strength and determination forward even today as she founded the organisation, 'Lisa Leslie Basketball and Leadership Academy' for young and ambitious basketball players. She has not only become the first woman in the history of WNBA to 'dunk' a basketball but has achieved countless feats along her career before she retired in 2009. Even after retirement she has authored her autobiography, 'Don't Let The Lipstick Fool You,' became a broadcast commentator, part owner of Sparks, opened her own Academy and coaches the Triplet Team in men's BIG3 league. Lisa Leslie does it all and more. 

Her passion for basketball was not self realised, instead the idea was inspired through her family and known friends due to her exceptionally tall physique which was 6 ft, at the age of just 12! Everyone around Lisa assumed she must be good at basketball due to her physique so she tried playing it in her school in order to make friends. She started playing with her left hand as well and became ambidextrous, a quality that is quite remarkable for a basketball player. She soon started practising with her uncle and cousins and joined the  Olympic Girls' Development League where she played against very experienced players older than her. Due to her participation in this league, Lisa gained momentum and got more than hundred offers from college recruiters upon seeing her play. 


A Coach, Model, Speaker, Businesswoman and Writer!

She went to the University of Southern California and was named the National Freshman of the Year in 1991 and Naismith College Player of the Year in 1994. Her journey for the Olympics started in 1994 when she joined the European Women's Professional League to play because the US did not have any national opportunities. She won her first Olympic gold in 1996 when she made the team and set a record by scoring 35 points in one single game.

According to the National Women's History Museum, "Leslie played in the WNBA for twelve seasons, during which she led the Sparks to league championships in 2001 and 2002. She was a seven-time All-Star (and three-time All-Star Game MVP), three-time WNBA MVP, eight-time first team All-WNBA honoree, and two-time Defensive Player of the Year. Leslie made history when she became the first player in the WNBA to dunk on July 30, 2002." 

Her career was not limited to just Basketball, she even did modelling right after her first Olympic win when she joined brands like Armani, Tommy Hilfiger and Anne Klein. Apart from that she not only has a graduate degree in communications but also a masters in business administration from the University of Phoenix.

WNBA Re-Shaping the Narrative

In 1997 when WNBA was established and played their first game it not only set a precedent in history it also recognised women. It acknowledged women in sports and gave them a platform (court) for  representation. WNBA has helped many professional sports women establish their career and broaden their network, from signing deals with Nike to giving young girls a proper agency for recruitment and advancement of their skills.

At a time when women were not even considered strong, platforms like WNBA helped re-shape the narrative and that is the most important aspect of women being a part of sports, re-shaping perspective. Thanks to players like Lisa Leslie and Sheryl Swoopes for not only uplifting women but also giving space and equal recognition to black women and girls in sports.

Female Basketball Player First Dunk in WNBA Lisa Leslie WNBA