Lisa Leslie, 4 time gold medalist and WNBA all time leading scorer, was a presenter at the 2012 Gatorade High School Athlete of the Year Awards and held court to a few group media interviews after the event.
Question: What it was like to be both a Gatorade Athlete of the Year Award(1989 Girls Basketball Player of the Year) winner and to attend the event so many times over the years?
LL: I’ve given out so many awards over the years, obviously Candace Parker, Dwight Howard I mean all of these players who were here. I mean they are phenomenal athletes now at the pro level or the Olypmic level, and I think that’s maybe the best part. That I met them before it all became big time. Even with LeBron I think that, but I don’t know if I was here the year he won.
Question: All of these athletes seem really well balanced, and smart, and they give back to their communitites. What’s it like to be around well rounded people like that, and the experience of coming back several times over the years?
LL: In all honesty, I think it’s a reflection of us older athletes. Maybe that this new generation, they’re seeing the importance of education. Especially, I can see from women’s basketball, I think 98% of our women have degrees in the WNBA. I think we are great role models in that aspect. They give to others, we’re entrepenaurs as well. I think being a part of the Gatorade family , once they arrive here and they see it, I think they get even more excited to go back and do more.
Question: It wasn’t that long ago that you played high school sports.
LL: (she chuckles) Thank you.
Question: What do you think is the biggest change you’ve seen in the high school game since then?
LL: Since I’ve played, I think about social media, and just where we’ve gone from a technology stand point has changed the game. Has changed the whole game. Because now the whole world is playing now, it really is a game that is open now. We have more foreign players coming to our colleges, so that’s a competition that our American players have to consider as far as scholarships. The games in terms of level of talent has changed, individual talent, whether it’s jumping higher, moving faster, crossovers are faster, people are unguardable. I mean, there was a time when you could figure out a defense to stop people. Then you have players that come along, and they are unstoppable. So the evolution of sports, I don’t know I just get excited about it, maybe because I’m a part of it, but I love it; I love this world. Other than seeing things like, they do the tattoos, and the headphones, all that stuff is a little scary, but they just seem to be great. They are the cream of the crop, so it’s good for them to recognize that they are also role models.
Question: Leslie, now that your career has come full circle , I mean you played youth basketball, high school basketball, college, and pros. Going back to the youth portion, what do you think was the most important thing about youth sports that really gave you a solid foundation?
LL: I would says youth sports really helped build my self esteem. I found that I need to be so focused on basketball and lining out my goals, that I didn’t get into trouble, I didn’t get into drugs. I didn’t get pregnant early. There were so many statistics in a very positive way that sports allowed me to avoid, probably some situations that I could have fallen prey to especially coming from the inner city. So, I’m always encouraging… I just had a conversation with a woman in the bathroom about her son being 6, and I’m like yes. Put him in sports. It’s never too early, because to play sports really just opens doors. The worst case scenario is that they only play high school sports, I mean that’s the hardest part is those teen years that’s really to get your kids to come out and talk and not lock yourself up in the room, or get the tatoos, or the headphones, or the piercings. You know all that crazy stuff we’ve all done a little bit of. Those are the important years and sports… I don’t know where I would be without sports.”
Lisa Leslie mentioned the Gatorade family, and what struck me the most was the balance of these student-athletes. Gatorade does a thorough job of vetting the award winners, and making sure nobody who doesn’t have high grades or exceptional moral character wins the award. It was a pleasure to get to ask questions of these presenters and high school athletes, who still keep a level head despite all their accomplishments and clearly have much to look forward to in their athletic careers and their post-athletic careers as well.