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Lisa Leslie sets sights on NBA, as a TV analyst

As the Sparks honor her by retiring her number, the legendary WNBA player says her knowledge and familiarity of the game would be a perfect fit with TNT team.

August 11, 2010|By Melissa Rohlin, Los Angeles Times

Lisa Leslie is working on a new goal, one that has her trash-talking Charles Barkley.

If she succeeds, "Charles won't be eating no more doughnuts," she says, smiling.

After she watched the retirement of her No. 9 Sparks' jersey at Staples Center on Tuesday night, the women's basketball icon relished another moment in an award-filled career that spanned 13 seasons and ended in 2009. But her best moment, she hopes, will come as an NBA studio analyst for TNT, sitting alongside the inimitable Barkley.

When Barkley is told of Leslie's ambition, and her friendly jab, he laughs.

"We should hire her sooner. Any time TNT wants to fire Kenny, they're welcome to do it," he says, referring to friend and fellow analyst Kenny Smith, whose on-air jousts with Barkley have made the studio show such a success.

Leslie thinks she would fit right in, even with Smith.

"I want to cover men's basketball on a national level," Leslie says, "where people know and respect what I have to say about the game as much as they respected me playing it."

Her expertise is unquestioned: three-time MVP in the WNBA; championships in 2001 and 2002 with the Sparks; the league's leading rebounder (3,307) and second-leading scorer (6,263); four Olympic gold medals.

Leslie is working hard to reach her goal. She has been a studio analyst for KABC's "Sports Zone" and a color commentator on WNBA games for Fox Sports Net.

"I love broadcasting because it keeps me close to the sport," Leslie says. "I really just love talking about the game. It kind of comes easy to me because I know what it's like to be out there."

Leslie is sure she would thrive in the male-dominated field.

"Obviously men are stronger than women, but they're not necessarily smarter," she says.

Playing with top-caliber NBA players is familiar ground for her. Every off-season she would head to the Lakers' practice facility early in the morning to shoot around. After her workouts, she would challenge the Lakers' Derek Fisher to games of "H-O-R-S-E" and tease Pau Gasol.

"I call him little Lisa because his game is so similar to mine," she says. "I'm like, 'Pau, I know you copied my footwork.'"

Those guys, she says, are used to women playing basketball. "It's a nice respect level that I get," says Leslie, who was called "Smooth" for her shooting ability. "The new generation of NBA players have grown up with the WNBA."

This is the first free summer she's had since she was 12. She is learning how to play tennis but the rest of her newfound time is spent on her family. In April, the 6-foot-5 former center gave birth to her second child, Michael Joseph Lockwood II. Even though he was born premature at 36 weeks, he weighed 7 pounds 13 ounces and was 21 inches tall.

"He was the biggest baby in the hospital," Leslie says, laughing with a hint of pride in her voice. "He was the biggest preemie baby probably in the world."

Leslie's sense of humor has helped her gain footholds as an analyst. She even admits to being called "Lucy" at home — as in Lucille Ball, whose antics made "I Love Lucy" one of the most successful TV shows.

One time, for example, after a long flight, she opened a bottle of makeup in her husband's car, and the liquid exploded all over his vanilla interior.

"I forgot it was pressurized," Leslie says. "I was like 'So-r-r-r-r-r-y.'"

Barkley has known Leslie for a long time and says he'd eventually like to see her in the studio with him.

"I've got great love for Lisa," Barkley says. "It would be cool to work with her."

Could he endure trash talk from a woman?

"There's nothing that a woman could say to me that a man hasn't said," Barkley says.

Leslie is ready.

"Could you imagine having a woman on the set with those guys talking basketball and trash?" she asks.

"I definitely could articulate it better than those guys. Especially Charles."

melissa.rohlin@latimes.com

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