Leslie raises her game above the rim

6-5 Sparks player's dunk is 1st in women's pro game

Pro Basketball

August 01, 2002|By Shannon Rose | Shannon Rose,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

When Miracle coach Dee Brown arrived in Orlando after Tuesday night's win at Washington, he didn't turn on his VCR to watch game tape. Instead, he flipped on his computer to catch another look at WNBA history.

Lisa Leslie, the 6-foot-5 center for the Los Angeles Sparks, finally did the one thing the women's game has lacked: throwing down the first dunk in women's professional competition late Tuesday against the Miami Sol.

"It's so big for that to happen," said Brown. "I think she surprised everybody. It caught everybody off guard."

Leslie took an outlet pass from Latasha Byears at halfcourt and was all alone when she sailed toward the basket, shocking the crowd of 13,141 with a one-handed slam.

Born the year the revolutionary Title IX was enacted, it's fitting the 30-year-old Leslie was the first to dunk. She is considered the world's best female player, winning Most Valuable Player honors last season and at the past two WNBA All-Star Games. She also scored her 3,000th WNBA career point this season -- the first player to do that as well.

"There's been so much pressure and talk about it around the All-Star Game, and finally the situation came, I don't even know how," Leslie said.

But dunking is just one part of Leslie's game, and the dunk certainly doesn't make someone a better player. And nobody expects the first one to open the floodgates.

"Either you can dunk or you can't dunk," said Brown, a one-time NBA slam-dunk champion. "It doesn't change the game. It brings a little more excitement to it. It takes away some of the stigmatism."

Now that the initial shock and excitement have worn off, the league can only sit back and wait to see if it generates any long-term results.

"I think it will become more frequent," Duke Coach Gail Goestenkors said. "I don't think it will get to where it is the focal point of the game. I do think it's inevitable that it will become something that is more commonplace within the next five years."

But some will argue that dunking isn't for the women's game -- at least not in the way that it's become so intertwined on the men's side.

"It's become so much one-on-one and so much about the dunk," Goestenkors said of the men's game. "They've lost some of the purity of the game. I think we need to appreciate our differences and not try to be like each other."

Leslie's slam ignited a flash of momentum, but it didn't help the Sparks in the long run. The dunk was Leslie's only basket of the second half in the 82-73 loss, which kept her from fully savoring the moment.

But while the Sparks' loss won't be replayed for weeks to come, Leslie's high-flying acrobatics will be a highlight not soon forgotten. She said she dunked for the first time when she was a 6-foot-4, 14-year-old freshman

"She's scored 3,000 points and was the MVP of the All-Star Game -- it's a good year for her," Brown said. "If anything, they'll always remember that `dunk.' There will only be a first of anything one time."

Shannon Rose is a reporter for the Sun-Sentinel of South Florida, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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