Q&A with Lisa Leslie

The WNBA great is playing new positions in this quarter of her career.

Lisa Leslie changed the face of women's basketball and helped propel the sport forward. She was drafted by the Los Angeles Sparks for the inaugural WNBA season in 1997, and she played on the team until her retirement in 2009. Leslie, now 44, was the first to dunk in a WNBA game, a three-time league MVP, and holds four Olympic gold medals.

After receiving her MBA from University of Phoenix, she became co-owner of the Los Angeles Sparks in 2011 and launched the Lisa Leslie Basketball & Leadership Academy. Today, she uses her legacy to inspire others in all aspects of life, from individual health to motherhood to success in business. Soon, she can add 'author' to her list of accolades. Her new book, From the Court to the Boardroom: The Path to Empowerment,hits shelves this spring. Here, Leslie discusses her latest endeavors, how she balances life as a busy public figure and mom, and how she thinks the sport has changed.

How have you stayed active since retiring?

"I go to the gym, and [when I can't] I do what I call my 'commercial break workouts.' I do squats and sit-ups and push-ups and leg lifts all the time, like while I’m brushing my teeth. I don’t have the time I used to, though. Before, I could invest 6 to 8 hours a day working out. When you come from being a pro athlete, you’re so used to being told what to do and following directions. It was hard for me to figure out what to do when I didn’t have my trainer telling me to do this, do that. But I took up tennis about six years ago and fell in love with the sport. I’m on the women’s tennis team in my community—I love the camaraderie, the competition. I have a few partners, and I’ve been moving up. We play on Fridays. Those are my favorite days."

Your kids are one reason your time is limited. How do you teach them to be healthy and active?

"I’m their first role model, and I feel like how I introduce food to them is very important. I try to have really balanced meals with lots of fruit and vegetables, and we try to limit processed foods as much as possible. I’m always challenged in finding them healthy snacks, especially since I’m on the move as well, which is why I decided to partner with Lorissa’s Kitchen. Their jerky is a healthy product that doesn't contain hormones and preservatives, and it has 11 grams of protein. As athletes, it’s drilled into our heads that we’re always looking for protein. I make sure my kids are reaching for things that fuel them because they’re both young athletes, too. My daughter plays tennis and hopes to be a pro tennis player someday, and my son plays basketball, baseball, and tennis."

What are some of the lessons you learned in basketball that apply to success in business?

First off, working with a team. In business, you’re usually managing a team or you’re on a team. There’s the goal the company wants to accomplish, but then you also have individual goals. In basketball, the number one goal was always to win, whether it was a gold medal or a championship, but you also have individual goals for your athletic career. I believe that those same skills—trying to contribute to the team but also staying driven and competitive and creating interpersonal relationships where your teammates can count on you—has to be built into business. Everything I learned in sports really applies to business. What I’m trying to remind people of is that if you played sports, you still have those tools within you, you just have to tap into them.

The WNBA celebrated its 20th anniversary last year. What do you think has changed for the sport?

The women are faster, jumping higher, moving quicker, and the ball handling skills are improved. There’s so much more access to information that has allowed people to hone their skills, which has provided us with some phenomenal talent. They’re more educated about the body and how it works and how to get the most out of it. There have been big changes from a business perspective, also. Having larger TV deals has really helped the sport in terms of longevity. When we started, we were just hopeful we’d get to play another year. Overall perception has changed: the passion and the love for the game and the recognition that basketball is basketball and it doesn’t matter if it’s a man or woman playing it, it’s just an amazing sport to watch. Stats are showing more young girls are participating, which is great. The overall stats support that when girls participate in sports, they get a better education and they’re less likely to do drugs, get pregnant, so it’s all very positive.