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SPARKS 90, MINNESOTA 61

Lisa Leslie honored in pregame tribute

The Sparks center has 19 points in the last regular-season home game of her career, as the team clinches the third seed in the Western Conference playoffs.

September 12, 2009|Mark Medina

Lisa Leslie's eyes remained focused on the scoreboard.

A video featured testimonials from members of the Sparks, opponents and league officials about her storied 13-year WNBA career. Earlier, she watched another video highlighting her accomplishments with Morningside High, USC and the Sparks.

When Leslie was asked to speak afterward, though, she appeared antsy.

Said Leslie: "Did you guys get the memo? We have a game to play."

The Sparks (17-16) wanted to make sure the pregame festivities surrounding Leslie's last regular-season home game wouldn't disrupt their chances of cementing the No. 3 seeding in the Western Conference playoffs.

It didn't. The Sparks' 90-61 victory over the Minnesota Lynx on Friday officially secured that position, put the San Antonio Silver Stars (15-18) in the fourth postseason spot and eliminated Minnesota from playoff contention.

Leslie, who had 19 points along with forward Tina Thompson, spoke to an appreciative crowd at Staples Center that also included Lakers standout Magic Johnson, Sparks Coach Michael Cooper, former USA Basketball teammate Dawn Staley, the current teams at Morningside High and USC and her family.

"I had so many awards," said Leslie, whose accolades include three league MVPs and two WNBA championships. "But it's been the rewards I'm most appreciative of, which is to be a role model for so many girls and boys."

Leslie accepted other rewards Friday, including lifetime courtside seats to Sparks games, a framed USA Basketball jersey, framed photos with messages from Sparks teammates and gold Nike shoes. It's a small fraction, teammates say, to what she provided for women's basketball.

"It's comforting to me that she's done so much for the game," said Sparks forward Candace Parker, who scored 13 points and had 14 rebounds.

"Now it's our job to make sure we send her out with a championship."

The Sparks made one step toward that goal Friday, leading the Silver Stars by double digits for most of the game. Forward DeLisha Milton-Jones (16) also notched double figures.

Leslie had said she wasn't sure what to make of the tribute. The Sparks are playing at least another home game, beginning Sept. 16 when they host the second-seeded Seattle Storm in the Western Conference playoffs.

"I never really celebrated the last regular-season game before," Leslie said earlier in the week. "I don't think it's hit me."

Johnson highlighted the magnitude.

"When I landed at the airport, a guy at the airport said, 'Why are you not at Springfield honoring your friends going into the Hall of Fame?' " he said.

"I'm in L.A. honoring someone who will be in the Hall of Fame."

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mark.medina@latimes.com

twitter.com/latimesmedina

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