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WNBA

Sparks' Lisa Leslie cites balancing act in decision to retire

The WNBA icon who has a toddler daughter told teammates last year that this season would be her last. She says she won't come back in a year or two and ruled out coaching for now.

February 05, 2009|Lisa Dillman

This didn't jump up and confront Lisa Leslie on Monday. Or some run-of-the-mill moment on a Monday in December.

The hard truth came last year.

Leslie, a pioneer and cornerstone of the WNBA, realized that the end of her storied basketball career was in sight and told her Sparks' teammates that this would be her final season.

On Wednesday, Leslie went public with that information and paid tribute to all those who had guided her on a long-and-winding journey, all the way from Inglewood Morningside High to a three-time league MVP to a four-time Olympic gold medalist.

Her news conference in El Segundo had a charming "This Is Your Life"-type feel, from her proud husband, Michael Lockwood, on hand and her toddler, Lauren, saying, "Mommy!" to her own mother, Christine, saying, "She's still my little girl."

The 36-year-old Leslie got emotional once in the prepared remarks and that was when she was thanking the people around her who made it possible to succeed at the highest level.

"Last year was a very emotional year for me," said Leslie, who missed the 2007 season when she had Lauren. "I don't think I ever cried so much in basketball till last year. I realize a lot of that had to do with my hormones being out of whack. I could see the time was drawing near.

" . . . It was hard coming back. I don't think my mind-set was really right. I should have done more thinking to try to come back and be the player I was. This year, I have another opportunity to put more of 100% into my team and my job, one last time. It's really difficult balancing the team and the family."

In this case, goodbye really does mean just that for the basketball icon.

"I'm not going to pull a [Michael] Jordan and come back in a year or two . . . or Lance Armstrong," she said.

Already, the Sparks will be without Candace Parker for an undetermined part of the season because she is expecting her first child this spring.

The Sparks tried to talk Leslie out of her decision when they realized she was considering it last season.

"We'd love to keep her for as long as she's willing to stay, but we completely understand the decision and we're so delighted she's here for this season, because she could have retired," said Sparks co-owner Carla Christofferson.

Leslie, for now, ruled out the possibility of coaching but plans on continuing hosting camps for children.

She also is interested in becoming involved in the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports.

What she will miss the most, in retirement, will be the camaraderie with her teammates and "being in the trenches."

And the least?

"Oh, practices after a loss," Leslie said, smiling. "That's no fun."

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lisa.dillman@latimes.com

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