Q&A: Basketball Hall of Famer Lisa Leslie talks BIG3, advice for Sac State students


Tracy Holmes

Lisa Leslie addresses the audience during her ‘Brave, Bold, Brilliant’ keynote address on Monday, Sept. 23. Leslie was Keynote speaker for Student Academic Success Day.

Shaun Holkko, Sports editor

Olympic Gold Medalist and WNBA Champion Lisa Leslie spoke as the Keynote Speaker during Student Academic Success day in the University Union Ballroom Sept. 23. 

Leslie played 12 seasons for the Los Angeles Sparks in the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) and was elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2015.

In her career, Leslie accomplished many achievements as a four-time Olympic Gold medalist, two time WNBA champion and eight-time WNBA All-Star. Leslie was also named MVP many times in her career, two times in the WNBA Finals and three times as league MVP and in the All-Star game, respectively.

Leslie is arguably one of the greatest women’s basketball players of all time with some calling her the GOAT of the WNBA.

As the keynote speaker at Sac State’s Student Academic Success Day, Leslie spoke about her childhood growing up in Compton, her evolution as a basketball player and her career after she stepped off the court. 

Tracy Holmes
Lisa Leslie shares childhood stories with the Sac State student body and guests at Student Academic Success day Monday, Sept. 23. Leslie is a Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer from the WNBA.

After retiring from the WNBA in 2009, Leslie embarked on several new career paths including broadcasting, acting, fashion and becoming an author.

Following her speech, The State Hornet spoke with Leslie and asked about her time spent as a coach in the BIG3 League, a 3-on-3 professional basketball league founded in 2017, and what advice she has for Sac State students.

Question: Can you tell me about your experience with the BIG3 this past year?

Answer: The victory was amazing. I had such an awesome time. I originally didn’t know that I was going to be coaching. I didn’t know that I even had a love and passion for coaching. 

But you know, as I talked about it in my speech, if you find that you love something, something you would do for free, you should do it. I had an amazing team with Joe Johnson, Al Jefferson, (Jannero) Pargo and Alan (Anderson). We had such a good team and great chemistry.

I just thought overall, every city we went to, we got so much love, so many fans out there cheering for those men and they played hard. I mean, it may not be the NBA, but you can tell they play it as if they just had so much passion for every possession and that’s what made it so much fun.

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Q: What was it like to win the BIG3 league championship and Coach of the Year in your first season?

A: It was fun. You know, I prepared those guys. As I said, I over-prepared them in terms of the scouting reports. So what we were going to do as well as what the other teams were gonna do. So we were always well prepared and you know, living in the moment with those guys and just having that opportunity to win. That’s what it was about.

I remember just telling them at one time, I think after maybe our fourth game, “it’s like, look, this is on television. We have our names connected to this, we want to win. We’re not just here, as if it’s just some summer league.” So I think our guys really took it seriously and they deserved to be crowned champion. 

Q: Aside from playing in high school in Sacramento in the state championship as you noted during your speech and also playing against the Monarchs in your WNBA career, do you have any other connections to the city of Sacramento? 

A: No, other than it’s our capital, that’s enough of a connection. I mean, I’m a California girl, born and raised. Having the opportunity to come to Sacramento, especially playing against the Monarchs.

You guys always had the best fans. Between that dog on cowbell and all that noise in there (it was) always one of the toughest teams to play. So hopefully the franchise will get a chance to come back one day. 

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Q: What kind of advice would you give to the Sac State students that currently don’t know exactly what they want to do with their careers?  

A: I think it’s OK to be unknown, but I think for the students it’s important to also figure out some things that you’re passionate about that you would do for free. 

See whether you can do an internship or go call and get a mentor, figure out different things that people are doing. You have to really seek it out. But if you’re not passionate about much, that’s going to be a little difficult. So you got to find something that you really love, even if it’s animals or if it’s gaming or anything in the IT world.

There’s so much information at our fingertips. Between YouTube and having that opportunity to really connect and learn. I just say, search it out. Keep trying to find yourself. And don’t be surprised if you start out doing one thing and you find out you don’t like it, then you just go in a different direction. 

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Q: Why was it important for you to make the keynote speech at Student Academic Success Day?

A: I think because you’re at a pinnacle point when you’re in college, but you’re still not sure what you’re gonna do to have the opportunity to hear that. It came down to my choices. It came down to setting goals, long-term goals, and short term goals. And those things are very real. That helps you reach your goals. They’re tangible and sometimes people hear it and you’re like, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah,’ but it’s true if you do it, if you write it down, it works.