Women’s Leagues, Leslie Are in Vogue


Lisa Leslie, promising young runway fashion model from Inglewood, confirmed Wednesday she plans to be a promising young pro basketball player in Inglewood.

The Women’s National Basketball Assn. announced it had signed Leslie, and while the WNBA didn’t say she will play for the Los Angeles franchise, that seemed to be everyone’s expectation at an airport hotel news conference. The L.A. team does not yet have a nickname.

The WNBA plans to assign Leslie and other top players to specific teams in its eight-team league for geographic and marketing purposes, just as the rival American Basketball League has done.


No terms were announced for Leslie’s contract, but WNBA President Val Ackerman said it is a two-year deal. She also said WNBA player salaries will be lower than the ABL’s, which range from $40,000 to $125,000.

The WNBA will begin its 28-game season June 21 in NBA arenas. Teams will be in Inglewood, Phoenix, Sacramento, Salt Lake City, Cleveland, Houston, New York and Charlotte, N.C.

Former Laker Michael Cooper is the leading candidate to be head coach of the Inglewood team.

Ackerman indicated she hopes NBA marketing and TV muscle will drive the enterprise to a successful start. “If we can average 4,000 paid per game in our first year, we’d consider ourselves successful,” she said.

The ABL, with teams in San Jose, Portland, Seattle, Denver, New England, Columbus, Richmond and Atlanta, is nearing the halfway point of its first season.

ABL officials said before their season that their break-even point was 3,000 paid per game and as of Wednesday reports it is averaging 3,456 league-wide, with six teams exceeding 3,000.


The 6-foot-5 Leslie who showed up Wednesday bore little resemblance to the Lisa Leslie who was a USC All-American and national player of the year before leading the U.S. Olympic team to a 60-0 record and the Olympic gold medal last summer.

Custom clothes, for starters.

She was dressed in a lavender pants suit designed and made by Dion Scott of Beverly Hills.

“At SC, I had to buy Levis and blazers in men’s stores, and have them tailored to fit me,” she said.

Her modeling career, she said, won’t affect her pro basketball career. “In modeling, when you get a job, you just go. But after the WNBA season starts, I just won’t do any modeling.

“But I stay in pretty good shape. Wherever I have to go, almost all the hotels now have gyms. I’m doing a lot of weight training when I’m home, and playing against men in pickup games several times a week.”

She said basketball burnout was a factor in selecting the WNBA over the ABL.

“The ABL started just a few weeks after the Olympics, and I was exhausted,” she said.

“I’ve talked to some of my [Olympic] teammates in the ABL and they told me it’s really been hard for them.

“I let my mom [Christine] decide. I told her I could play in the ABL, which had no team in L.A., or the WNBA, which does.

“So my mom said if there might be a chance I could play here [WNBA people were grinning at that moment], it would mean she could see me play. And since she’s my No. 1 fan, that’s what I did.”

The WNBA recently announced other signings, including 11 former Olympians: Ruthie Bolton-Holifield (1996), Janice Lawrence Braxton (1984), Vicky Bullett (1992), Cynthia Cooper (1988, ‘92), Jennifer Gillom (1988), Bridgette Gordon (1988), Rebecca Lobo (1996), Sheryl Swoopes (1996), Michele Timms of Australia (1996), Teresa Weatherspoon (1988, ‘92). The ABL has seven 1996 U.S. Olympians.

Women’s Basketball Notes

WNBA President Val Ackerman says she foresees neither a WNBA-ABL “war” nor a merger. “The ABL is off to a good start, they’re averaging about 3,500 per game, and that helps all of us in women’s basketball,” she said. “It’s important to us that they do well. But no one is talking about a merger.” Laker executive Rhonda Wyndham, a former USC player, has been mentioned as a candidate to be general manager of L.A.’s WNBA club. . . . The WNBA has a more impressive TV package than the ABL: NBC, ESPN and Lifetime. The ABL has a cable package. . . . The WNBA will play with the NCAA women’s ball (one inch smaller than the men’s), use the NCAA three-point line (19 feet 9 inches), two 20-minute halves and a 30-second shot clock.