WNBA Legend Lisa Leslie Acts, Broadcasts, Sells Real Estate—and Now Coaches in the BIG3

The BIG3 will soon be back for its third season, with more teams, more cities and a new broadcast partner (CBS Sports Network). To celebrate the impending return of Ice Cube's three-on-three basketball league, CloseUp360 spoke with five notable hoops luminaries involved in the league, who will be serving as players or coaches on the circuit this summer. On Monday, we featured NBA veteran-turned-BIG3 MVP and champion Corey Maggette. On Tuesday, it was Hall of Famer Nancy Lieberman, the reigning BIG3 Coach of the Year. On Wednesday, Ricky Davis, a 12-year NBA veteran and the BIG3’s last scoring leader, took center stage. On Thursday, we gave the spotlight to NBA champion and BIG3 rookie Jason Terry.

Today, in the finale of our BIG3 series, we turn our attention to WNBA legend, Basketball Hall of Famer and Triplets coach Lisa Leslie.

The BIG3 has been a haven for beloved NBA stars of yesteryear since its debut in 2017. Now, Ice Cube’s three-on-three basketball league is making strides to include legends from the women’s game in general, and the WNBA in particular.

Last season, Nancy Lieberman laid the foundation as not only the BIG3’s first female coach, but also the league’s Coach of the Year. This year, fellow Hall of Famer Lisa Leslie will carry her two WNBA championships, three WNBA MVPs, four Olympic gold medals and two FIBA World Championships into her role as coach of the newly christened Triplets.

During the BIG3’s recent media day in Las Vegas, Lisa spoke with CloseUp360 about how and why she joined the league, her exploration of coaching, her other professional pursuits, and more.

(This interview has been edited for clarity and length.)

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CloseUp360: What's it been like going through the whole media day scrum again some years since you last did it as a player?

Lisa Leslie: You know what? It's been so great. One, I could tell you just the camaraderie among all the BIG3 coaches and players, it really shows an extension of the WNBA and NBA family here. It's just been a great experience. All the gentlemen are so welcoming to me and so respectful. I really appreciate that. Everything is operating with such a level of integrity and class that I really appreciate just being a part of it, and so excited to see what happens with my team, Team Triplets. I'm excited.

CU360: I'm sure there's a lot of people who are involved with the BIG3 that you've known over the years. How does it feel now to be reconnected with them in this way?

LL: What's really cool about it, again, I think for those of us that have retired from playing, we always talk about the things that we miss most is the camaraderie, the locker room and the bus-ride-over conversations. And we've already had several of those, you know, just laughing and clowning on the bus with the guys. I've just really enjoyed that part already and I'm sure it's only going to get better as our families come with us and travel, and our children meet one another and they get a chance to get out on the court and just play a little bit, maybe around at practice or something. So it's definitely a very family-oriented environment, and it's really been great and it's only just beginning.

CU360: This is your first year with the BIG3. How did you get involved and why did you get involved?

LL: Amy Trask and I work together for CBS Sports Network on "We Need to Talk." So she was my initial connection and had told me about the BIG3 and Ice Cube's ideas before they even launched. And I had written her an e-mail just saying, "Hey, I would love to learn more about it and maybe even be involved." And so we didn't revisit that actually for a year. And what happened was, I went to a BIG3 game. I had been watching it on television and my husband and I were, like, "This is actually good." It was exciting and it was just short enough to keep you engaged, but long enough to learn about other teams. And I think initially, I just really became a fan from my husband and I watching, but it wasn't until I went to the game that I was, like, "This is so dope." Like, the environment, watching the guys, the crowd. I mean, it was sold out. And just having that experience in the arena, I knew I wanted to be involved.

And I think lastly, it's just sitting on the side, talking Xs and Os and the guys all coming over and saying, "Hey," giving me a hug. Then I knew so many and have so many friends in the league that it was kind of a no-brainer. So Ice Cube reached out to me. Actually, Amy Trask reached out to me first and was, like, "We'd love to have you in any capacity. We'd love for you to coach a team." And I'm, like, "Really?" They were going to add four new teams. And so, I think it was a fit. It fit great for my husband and I and my children, being out there in the summer. And so I'm really excited to be following Nancy [Lieberman's] footsteps, who is the first female coach here and she won a championship last year, and as the first African-American female coach, it's a great opportunity.

CU360: Is this your first foray into coaching in this way?

LL: I only coached one game in Master P's Global Mixed Gender Basketball league. It was a good opportunity, but it just wasn't really a fit for me with the travel and the time of the year. And so I only coached one game there. But here overall, [it's] having a chance to talk with Joe Johnson and Jannero Pargo, as well as Al Jefferson, having a chance to just sit down and talk to the guys about our strategies or what we want to do, even in the draft. For example, my two guys were heading to the gym and so I was, like, "Oh, this is just a match made in heaven."

CU360: You've already got at a mature, disciplined team on your hands then.

LL: Oh yeah, for sure. They're really excited about playing and understand the magnitude of this opportunity to be on CBS and CBS Sports Network, that it's growing and this is an awesome opportunity. And you don't have enough time to get ready during the season. You have to be ready. And my guys will be ready.

CU360: This is an interesting opportunity for you to really get involved in coaching in a deeper way. What is it about coaching in general, and coaching specifically in the BIG3, that appeals to you and intrigues you?

LL: One, I loved playing three-on-three. And three-on-three is such a strategic game of chess because you can play three-on-three a few different ways. You can play it like pickup or you can really understand that there is execution to be done in this smaller space, as opposed to running up and down the court. And I had a lot of success playing in three-on-three tournaments, Nike tournaments. Obviously I played with some of the greatest players in the world with Dawn Staley and Sheryl Swoopes. We were very effective playing three-on-three. So I have a lot of experience as a player, one.

And then two, the Xs and Os of it. I love it. It's a strategy and you're always problem-solving, and I see the court almost like a puzzle and probably in a different way than most people do. But it's about really figuring out the weaknesses of the other teams, and trying to put your players in the best position possible to win and execute as quickly as possible. But you have to make adjustments as quickly as possible because the shot clock is pretty fast with the 14 seconds. So the rules and the four-point shot, three-point shots can change the outcome of a game quickly.

CU360: Do you have a desire to get into coaching in a bigger way beyond this? Or is this just an initial exploratory opportunity for you?

LL: I always try to say, never say never about any of the jobs that I do. I'm not a one-trick pony. I am a real estate agent. I work in the luxury division for Keller Williams. I own property. I have A‌i‌r‌b‌n‌b‌s. I'm a mom. I'm a wife. I do broadcasting and now coaching. I love to do things that I'm passionate about, and I never put myself in a box and say, "Oh, I can't do something" or "I won't do it." It just depends on if it's the right thing for my family and myself at the time.

CU360: Do you see the travel opportunities here as a chance to get your feet wet in some other real estate markets as well?

LL: Absolutely. With Keller Williams, it's international, so it's great to make contact with other agents in other parts of the world. So with the referral game, it's always a great opportunity when you know other agents and have met them face to face.

CU360: You mentioned earlier with Nancy Lieberman, how she was the first female coach in the BIG3 and the success she had. I'm sure throughout your career you've found the trail that she's blazed to be, in some respect, helpful. What does it mean to you now to be able to share a league with Nancy and to follow in her footsteps in this way?

LL: You know, Nancy's always been, obviously, ahead of me in years and all her accomplishments, whether it's been winning national championships or she played in the WNBA, she coached, she coached in the NBA, she's a Hall of Famer. I'm a Hall of Famer. We have awards named after us that we just handed out. I just handed out my second award in the second year of the Lisa Leslie Award. So it's been great being with Nancy and having the opportunity to know her personally. I think more than anything else, she's a great person. And to see her coach and have success, it's just, the sky's the limit. So it's a great opportunity.

CU360: What do you think we're more likely to see first: a female head coach in the NBA or a female player in the BIG3?

LL: I really don't know. I think maybe a female head coach, hopefully, in the NBA. I think that more and more people are starting to realize that it has nothing to do with our gender. It's about intellect, understanding and the ability to motivate people. And I think that the women, we have just as much ability to do that. And I think these guys and the men that are around [us]—the Becky Hammons of the world and Nancy Lieberman and myself—already understand that. I think maybe it's society that has to continue to adjust to those ideas. But these men, they respect every word that has come out of my mouth, and it's just great to see them be so responsive and open.

CU360: Ice Cube has never played basketball at a professional level, and yet, he's come to found this league that is growing and changing the basketball world in a lot of different ways. What's your perspective on Cube as a figure in the basketball world and just someone in entertainment who has turned his passion into something really tangible like the BIG3?

LL: I think one, it starts with a dream that he had and it's his vision, and he's been able to bring that vision to pass because, listen: it's kind of like we said in the Uncle Drew movie; you don't stop playing because you get old, you get old because you stop playing it. It's kinda of the same thing that, a lot of these men, they may not have the complete ability to compete up and down the court in the NBA, but they still have the ability to compete and could smash anybody at any local gym. And so it's sort of that idea of playing pickup.

And for Ice Cube, obviously he didn't play professionally, but he still was a baller. He still played pickup. He still knows what it's like to trash talk and take that sort of environment. And you run into old heads and young guys, and all those rules don't apply. There's a certain level of rules that apply in a pickup game. He's taken that idea, and with three-on-three and the fact that it's going to be in the Olympics, it was just to have the foresight to see that a league could exist and actually have success. And people enjoy coming and, as you can see through social media, are truly enjoying getting connected to the teams and players and the excitement of it all and the entertainment level. I think it's just brilliant.

Lisa Leslie 4

Lisa Leslie will be coaching the Triplets in the BIG3 this season. (BIG3/Chapman Baehler)

CU360: From your own perspective, you've worked in media since you retired from the WNBA a decade ago. You've gotten into real estate. Now you're getting into coaching and you've done acting as well. Do you have a favorite among your post-playing professions so far?

LL: I definitely love acting. Acting is so much fun. To have the opportunity to do television and movies, it's probably one of my first loves because I've been in drama class since middle school. So I really enjoy that. But I just enjoy using my spiritual gift to give back, and trying to use my voice in many different ways and using these platforms for that. So this is another platform now, giving me the opportunity as a role model for so many young people, for so many women to be able to see me obviously try and reach levels of success in something that I haven't done or have maybe the least experience in doing. But if you do something and you put your mind to it, there's no reason not to succeed.

CU360: What is your outlook for this BIG3 season? Any particular goals or things you're looking to learn or experience you're looking to gain?

LL: Absolutely. Win or go home. I want to win the championship. That's the only goal that I've ever had playing basketball, and I would be no different in coaching.

 

Josh Martin is the Editorial Director of CloseUp360. He previously covered the NBA for Bleacher Report and USA Today Sports Media Group, and has written for Yahoo! Sports and Complex. He is also the co-host of the Hollywood Hoops podcast. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.