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WNBA's Leslie Not Retiring, Just 'Transitioning'12:35
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Los Angeles Sparks center Lisa Leslie plays one of her last games, against the Seattle Storm on Sept. 16 in Los Angeles. (Mark J. Terrill/AP)
Los Angeles Sparks center Lisa Leslie plays one of her last games, against the Seattle Storm on Sept. 16 in Los Angeles. (Mark J. Terrill/AP)

Lisa Leslie says she wanted to go out on top and not become a liability to her team, so she retired from the WNBA in September after the Los Angeles Sparks lost their opportunity to go to the championship.

It's different for women than it is for men in professional sports, Leslie says, because men invest so many years in the sport that when they get home, they don't know where they fit in.

"But when you're the mom and wife of the group," she says, "I know what I have to do to fit in."

Leslie says she feels good about her decision to walk away from the game that she's given so much of her life to, because it will give her a chance to be home.

"[I] look forward to this next step of being a better wife, because I will be home a little more and a great mom, and this is just the next phase," says the mother of one. "I really don't consider myself retiring; I feel like I am transitioning."

The WNBA began regular-season play in 1997, but has not gained the media attention that the NBA has. Leslie says she hopes the league will still be around if her daughter wants to play pro-basketball.

It's very disturbing as a professional athlete in this country to have to fight so hard just to get noticed. It's not our fault that we were born girls.

Lisa Leslie

"That has been my goal playing since 1997," she says. "It's very disturbing as a professional athlete in this country to have to fight so hard just to get noticed. It's not our fault that we were born girls."

When she was in sixth grade, everyone asked the 6-foot-tall Leslie whether she played basketball. Finally she decided to take up the sport, because she wanted to be popular for her athletic abilities and not for her height.

She was not a natural. She was left-handed and had little knowledge of the game.

"All I knew was bounce the ball and hit it off the square, so trust me, there's hope there for a lot of young girls who have no idea what's going on in this sport." But, she adds, "I listened, I worked hard, and I was very focused."

She says an early introduction to sports is good for kids because they have lots of energy, and playing sports helps them build confidence, learn how to socialize, and it decreases the risk of drug use.

"I don't think that you should pressure the kids into several hours of practicing. It should definitely have the word 'fun' in it," Leslie says. "If kids are having fun, they should be allowed to play sports on a daily basis."

Reported by Michel Martin and written by Argin Hutchins.

Copyright NPR 2021.

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