Lisa Leslie: Media, ESPN Has Failed to Cover WNBA to Its Fullest
NEW YORK -- Lisa Leslie may be the most recognizable name in the history of the WNBA.
Her credentials are impressive: two-time WNBA champion, three-time league MVP, eight-time All-Star, and, of course, she was the first player ever to dunk in a WNBA game.
Leslie's name recognition, however, goes beyond the avid basketball fan. She is a mainstream figure, not simply because of her on-court resume, but also because of her off-the-court fame and celebrity, which includes guest spots on popular TV shows as well as a reputable modeling career.
But that begs the question. What about the rest of her colleagues? How mainstream are they? According to Leslie, not mainstream enough.
The WNBA fan base, while it continues to grow, is only a small fraction of those who consider themselves to be basketball fans. When FanHouse had a chance to sit down with Leslie at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City, we asked the league's unsanctioned ambassador if she believes that David Stern and the National Basketball Association have failed to push the WNBA to a more national level.
"Absolutely not," Leslie insisted.
"I think the NBA has stepped up to the plate by allowing us to have the WNBA," she continued. "What more could you ask from David Stern?"
So who is to blame, if anyone? Is it possible that the league has reached its peak within a niche audience or is there really some entity we can point the finger at for its lack of national regard?
"It's really more the media," Leslie told FanHouse. "It's ESPN. It's the TNTs of the world ... though, really, TNT has done a better job, I have to admit. They've covered the WNBA really well, if you have (NBA TV). But ESPN is probably the main focus that drives our sports. Ninety-five percent of sports, you know you can find it on ESPN.
"Maybe if we had a place [on ESPN] you would be more informed," Leslie pointed out.
FanHouse contributor Nando Di Fino challenged Leslie, insisting that many national publications led with WNBA content while the Seattle Storm and Atlanta Dream were locked in a battle during September's WNBA Finals.
Leslie lauded the media for its coverage of the Finals but insisted that it hadn't done enough to keep viewers informed on what led up to the Seattle-Atlanta matchup. "It would be nice to have that buildup to it to see where these teams started," she suggested. "Where did these teams come from? How did they get there?"
The question ultimately now becomes, where has the media failed?
"Just like as we follow the NBA," Leslie began, "I've never been to a Milwaukee [Bucks] game, but I can see the score in Milwaukee. I can see the score in Sacramento. I can see the score in Charlotte. Do you have any idea of what's happening in Phoenix (Mercury) or that we don't even have a WNBA team in Houston? Do you know that? Those are the basic elements that we'd like to get more covered."
Leslie herself has become a part of the media, working as a broadcaster for ABC Sports Zone in Los Angeles, covering the Lakers' postgame, and also covering the L.A. Sparks for Fox Sports.
She has also kept busy outside of basketball in her post-WNBA, newly-minted media life. As a mother of two Leslie has been active with the March of Dimes, having just been named the "2010 Sportswoman of the Year" for her work throughout the community in helping young women who are in need of assistance and education throughout the many stages of pregnancy.
Still, while Leslie has made a name for herself through other avenues since leaving the WNBA in 2009, she remains the league's biggest ambassador. And if she can use her name to push women's basketball to a more national level, she'll certainly be prepared for the fight.
"Just as you can follow track and field or a horse," Leslie noted, "you should be able to follow women in sports."
A simple request by an all-time great who is calling on the media to recognize the WNBA on a national level.