Leslie Fades Into Late Night

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Arriving late to Madison Square Garden with my then 8-year-old daughter Sammi during the WNBA’s rookie season in 1997, it didn’t take us long to figure out that Lisa Leslie was the one.

Last night, was the last one for Leslie.

Her Los Angeles Sparks teammates, including the game’s future face Candace Parker, didn’t show up early against the Phoenix Mercury. Missing 13 of its first 15 shots, LA went down by 20 quickly Saturday night and never seriously threatened thereafter.

As such, the greatest women’s pro basketball player’s career ended all-too quietly around midnight (ET) in Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals. Diane Taurasi and Cappie Pondexter will now lead the Mercury against Tamika Catchings and Katie Douglas and the rest of the first-time finalists, the Indiana Fever, in the best-of-five WNBA Finals.

Before fouling out with 1:39 left, Leslie scored 22 points and collected nine rebounds — hey, she’s the league’s all-time leader in both categories, as well as free throws made (take that Wilt).

And that’s the point here. In the modern age of sports media, the equivalent of Wilt Chamberlain packing in it deserved more attention than a late-night run on NBA TV and a clip on ESPNews showing Leslie banking in a turnaround jumper and then being hugged by coach Michael Cooper, after she was disqualified.

Her lithe, 6′5″ frame topped by Wilhemina model looks belied the competitor who scored 100 points in a high school game and became the first women to dunk in a pro hoops contest. That’s to say nothing of the four Olympic gold medals; two WNBA titles and attendant finals MVPs; three regular-season most-valuables; all-decade squad laurels; a host of All-Star runs; defensive accolades; and all-league recognition, including a second-team finish this year.

Rather her finale before retirement to spend more time with her family was dwarfed by the latest flurry of Top 10 college football upsets, Tim Tebow’s concussion and Major League Baseball post-season berth clinchings. Not that those results shouldn’t be chronicled and trumpeted.

But the worldwide leader pays a rights fee for the WNBA and ESPN2 will be covering its Finals, tipping off on Sept. 29. You thing the network could have celebrated greatness and one of “its own” a lot better.

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