Lisa Leslie was born on July 7, 1972, in Los Angeles. Her mother, Christine, stood 6-3, so there was little question that Lisa and her sisters, Dionne and Tiffany, would be six-footers. When Lisa was a toddler, her father left home. Rather than working low-paying jobs or accepting public assistance, her mother bought a truck and went into business for herself. The family lived in Compton, and later in Carson.
During the school year, Christine would be gone for weeks at a time, with a live-in housekeeper looking in on the girls. The girls’ aunt Judy also provided some fill-in parenting. But much of the household responsibility fell to Lisa, who was doing plenty of maternal things by the time she was 10.
During school breaks, Lisa and Tiffany would hit the open road with their mom, eating at truck stops and sleeping in the cab. Each summer, as the girls grew, that cab got a little tighter. Lisa sprouted past six feet in the seventh grade. Everyone asked her the same question: Do you play basketball? She did indeed play, but was hardly passionate about the game. In fact, this question got so annoying that she decided it would be easier to quit basketball just so she could say, "No." Besides, her dream was to become a TV weather reporter.
Fortunately, the star of the junior high team talked Lisa into trying out. She started center, and the team went undefeated. Lisa loved being in the middle of the action. Her teammates looked to her to score, rebound, or create scoring opportunities with her passing.
Lisa soon began to get serious about basketball. Her favorite player was James Worthy of the Lakers, a young star who could shoot, rebound, play D and finish on the break. Lisa realized that being tall was no enough of an advantage, so she began playing with her cousin, Craig, who helped her develop her footwork and shooting. A natural lefty. Lisa began working with her right hand at an early age. To improve her stamina, she did sit-ups and push-ups every day. Craig took her two Victorian Park near his house in Carson for workouts and pickup games.
Lisa entered Morningside High School in Inglewood in 1986 and made Frank Scott’s varsity, starting every game. She also joined the volleyball and track teams, increasing her leaping ability and speed in the process. She would eventually win state titles in the high jump and triple jump.
In Lisa’s sophomore year, Morningside advanced to the state playoffs. In the semis, the team had a chance to win the game at the buzzer. Lisa took the shot—and missed. She brooded all summer, and worked even harder on her game. Lisa achieved her full height, 6-5, in her junior year, and cemented her rep as the top high-schooler player in the city. By this time, she could dunk the ball in the open court. Her high-jumping technique enabled her to rise off the floor and jam-one handed, even though she could not palm the ball.
Lisa led Morningside to the state title in 1989. After her junior season, she was invited to play for Team USA’s Junior World Championship squad. Lisa topped the team in scoring and rebounding that summer.
During her senior year, Lisa became the top player in the country as Morningside won the state finals again.. She averaged 27 points and 15 rebounds a game, despite the fact that Scott pulled her from many games a few minutes into the second half. He was careful not to humliate teams Morningside would have to face the following season, when Lisa was no longer on the team.
It was a tradition at Morningside to let the squad’s…