Yesterday, Mark Cuban’s attention-grabbing comment about his willingness to consider drafting Baylor’s Brittney Griner in the second round of the NBA Draft caused a stir. While most people debated whether Griner’s skill and athleticism were enough to compete with the best male basketball players in the world, I instead reflected upon the first time Lisa Leslie, also considered a player special enough to redefine the women’s game, became the first WNBA player to dunk in the history of the league, back in 2002.
Like most people, I missed Leslie dunking live. Yet, I do vividly recall the hype surrounding this moment after it occurred. Overnight, the WNBA went from being insignificant to being covered by every major media outlet. The buzz was so loud, people debated if Leslie’s singular achievement could finally propel the WNBA into mainstream popularity. But, we all know the rest. Over 10 years later, the WNBA and its players are still fighting for respect, despite all of the talent in the league.
This summer, Brittney Griner will go on to play in her first WNBA game. Since 2002, Candace Parker, who’s dunked twice, is the only other WNBA player to join Leslie in the record books. Which, when you think about it, makes Leslie’s accomplishment that more incredible. But something tells me that Griner, who’s dunked 18 times in her collegiate career, will not only have her name added next to Leslie and Parker’s, but she’ll have many record-setting entries unto herself.
However, before Griner enters the league and shatters all of the records, let’s take a look back at the pioneering Leslie, who retired a two-time WNBA champion, three-time WNBA MVP, and four-time Olympic gold medalist, coming off the fast break and taking off above the rim. Warning, the footage is extremely low res.