WNBA legend Lisa Leslie not getting proper sendoff

 
 
Published8/1/2009 12:00 AM

Chicago didn't even get to say goodbye.

Women's basketball fans in this area got a bit gypped on Wednesday when the Los Angeles Sparks came to town to take on the Chicago Sky in their only visit of the regular season.

 

Sure, the return of Naperville native Candace Parker, now a star forward with the Sparks, was the main event. And that went off without a hitch.

But we were also supposed to be able to bid a fond farewell to one of the greatest players the women's game has ever known.

Unfortunately, Lisa Leslie, who will retire at the end of the summer after an extraordinary 12-year WNBA career, didn't make the trip.

The 6-foot-5 Sparks center is out with a severe knee sprain and has been since mid-June. She stayed in Los Angeles to rest.

It's a shame, really, because Leslie, who turned 37 last month and is eager to spend more time with her 2-year-old daughter Lauren, deserves a much better farewell tour than this.

"Lisa has meant so much. Her face is the face of the WNBA and women's basketball in general," said Sparks teammate Tina Thompson, herself a 13-year veteran of the league. "She's been a role model for how things should be done in this league. She's been the leader."

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Leslie was one of the first players signed to the WNBA prior to its inaugural season in 1997. Since then, she's done everything she can to help the WNBA grow, both on the court and off.

When Leslie wasn't dazzling fans with her skills - she is averaging 17.3 points and 9.3 rebounds per game over her career and became the first WNBA player to dunk in a game in 2002 - she was selling the league like a pro.

Interviews, charity events, publicity tours. Leslie did it all.

Long before Parker was a household name, it was Leslie whom people immediately associated with the league.

"Her legacy will be a great one," Sparks coach Michael Cooper said. "Lisa has done a lot of great things for the WNBA. She's always stepped up and been there. She's a great ambassador for the league and she's meant a lot. She's going to be truly missed.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

And what will we be missing?

How about a three-time WNBA most valuable player, a two-time WNBA defensive player of the year, a four-time Olympic gold medalist, a member of the WNBA's all-decade team and a two-time WNBA champion.

Even the next generation of stars is impressed with those credentials. Parker says she simply tries to soak in all that she can when she's around Leslie.

"When I was growing up, I definitely was a huge Lisa Leslie fan," Parker said. "It's her tenacity. She's so feisty on the court. She's not going to back down from anyone. When she's on the court, you feel her presence. That's what makes her so good.

"It's sad that she's retiring. But I just think she's at a place in her life where she feels that it's time. She's ready. We just want to send her off on a good note."

So did Chicago.

No rest for the weary: New mom and Los Angeles Sparks star Candace Parker is keeping a low profile in her spare time. Very low.

"Sleeping is what I do for fun," laughed Parker, who is trying to keep up with the demands of her job - early morning practice and traveling cross-country - and her daughter, Lailaa, who was born in May.

Parker says she is still nursing Lailaa frequently and getting up with her at odd hours.

"Lailaa's happy time is between 4 and 6:30 in the morning. She's wide awake, happy," Parker said. "That's the time when I want to be awake to see her and hang out with her. And then it's off to practice.

"All I do when I get home is sleep. Or maybe we'll rent a movie. But that's about it."

pbabcock@dailyherald.com

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