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Leslie's far-flung legacy

August 23, 2008|K.C. Johnson | Chicago Tribune

BEIJING -- She hasn't let her mind wander. She has been resolute, not reflective.

Come tonight, Lisa Leslie and her U.S. women's Olympic basketball teammates will hang either a silver or gold medal around their necks after they face Australia.

And the only way Leslie will break out the three gold medals she brought here for motivation is if they have company of the same color.

At 36, Leslie is vying to become the first person in Olympic basketball history to own four consecutive gold medals. With her international career winding down, her teammates remain appreciative of the legacy she will leave.

"She hasn't said a word about it, but Lisa deserves everything that comes to her," guard Diana Taurasi said. "She's been such a great leader and role model. Everyone on this team, we grew up watching her play. I remember my first WNBA game was at the Great Western Forum watching her. This year has been closure in a lot of ways."

This could be the final Olympics for other U.S. stalwarts, such as Katie Smith. Yet it's Leslie, of course, who casts the longest shadow because of her skill level, leadership ability and 19-year commitment as one of the mainstays of USA Basketball.

"The way Lisa handles her business sets a great example for the youngsters who are here now, and hopefully they'll spread similar lessons to the people who come after," Smith said.

"That's why the women's side has been so consistent. We try to impart the importance of a long-term commitment on the ones who are here for the first time.

"Lisa's been playing a long time. That's not easy. It's not for everybody. The sacrifices you make with time away, training, games, years and years . . . that takes a lot of pride."

Leslie, who is averaging 9.6 points and seven rebounds through seven straight victories, has deflected most questions about her impact and legacy throughout these Olympics.

Perhaps because she knows Australia, led by Lauren Jackson, possesses the size to match the Americans' front line and skill to keep pace with its up-tempo attack.

Most likely because she knows that legacy won't be complete unless it's capped with another gold medal.

"I will have done all I can do to represent my country for the four Olympics and two or three world championships," Leslie said.

"I don't know what [emotion] I'll feel. I just can't wait to be parading around the gym with all my medals."

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