If a dynasty isn’t noticed, can it really dominate? Lisa Leslie doesn’t think so. Leslie just won her fourth consecutive gold medal at her fourthconsecutive Olympics–an unparalleled streak. If you’ve never heardof Leslie, you might think that she was master of the power walk. ButLeslie has been the star of that most high profile of sports: basketball.But it’s women’s basketball which means, as Leslie has said, they are ignored,particularly relative to the various dream teams and redeem teams thatmen’s basketball have produced.
Leslie has led the US women’s basketball team since 1996 and in herlast Olympics she led a trouncing of Australia, 92-65. "We weren’tgoing to be the team to let Lisa lose," said new star CandaceParker, who scored fourteen in the final. "We wouldn’t let her Olympiccareer end that way." The US has won thirty-three straight games in theOlympics and only lost once, in 1992 in Barcelona.
We should recognize the infinite dominance of the US women’s team. Weshould appreciate the way women’s basketball under coach Anne Donovanhas continued to excel despite the improvements in the internationalgame.
My one knock against Leslie, a brilliant athlete and representative ofher sport, was when she took the time to call "Russian" point guardBecky Hammon "un-American". "Russian" is in quotes because Hammon is from Rapid City, South Dakota. She starred for several teams in the WNBA, earning the nickname "Big Shot Becky" for her ability to perform in the clutch. Despite her success, she was left off the tryout teamfor the US team.
Hammon wanted to play in the Olympics. Any world-class athlete would.When she became eligible for the Russian team after signing a contractto play ball in Russia, she leapt at the chance. For her efforts,Coach Anne Donovan called her out saying before the games, "If youplay in this country, live in this country and you grow up in theheartland and you put on a Russian uniform, you are not a patrioticperson in my mind."
The insipid Jay Mariotti of the Chicago Sun-Times piled on this week saying that she was a "sports defector" and "I hope she enjoys her rubles."
Hammon kept her head up and led the Russian team to a Bronze medalscoring 22 points in a 94-81 victory over China. She did that afterbouncing back in a dreadful semifinal game against the USA, where shewent one for six in a fifteen point loss.
"I’ve never doubted my decision for a second," she said. "I’m here forthe right reasons. To me, it’s been an even better experience than Ithought. The Village was great and the other girls have treated me sowell. I’m anxious to get back home and re-join my team and then I’llbe looking forward to returning to Russia."
Donovon to her credit said after the games, "Becky made a greatbusiness decision. I hold no grudge. From what I’ve learned since myfirst statement, at 46, I’m an old-timer. Generations have changed.The cold war is a memory. Borders have opened."
But it’s about more than money. It’s about being able to compete. LisaLeslie of all people should be able to appreciate that.