The Budding Broadcasting Careers of Current Players.
Behind the Microphone

By Matt Wurst,

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As if they are not busy enough with their professional basketball careers, several WNBA players have taken on a second job.

If you have watched any of ESPN's basketball coverage in the past year, men's or women's, you have likely seen and heard the poignant insight of L.A. sparks center Lisa Leslie and Sacramento Monarchs guard Kara Lawson. Along with the recently-retired Stacey-Dales Schuman, who played with the Washington Mystics for three seasons after being the third pick in the 2002 WNBA Draft, Lawson and Leslie are wholly unique as the first current players to balance their on-the-court workload with broadcasting in the offseason.

Lawson has just two years of WNBA service under her belt, but it is already one of the team leaders and a prominent voice for the league, appearing in both the 2004 and 2005 league marketing campaigns. She began working with ESPN on college telecasts during the 2003-04 college basketball season and won over the folks in Bristol with her polish, poise and professionalism that belies her age and experience. Lawson has served as a sideline reporter and analyst at all levels of ESPN's basketball coverage including men's and women's college basketball and the NBA. She was also a part of ESPN's team at the 204 WNBA Draft.

Leslie, who has been the face of women's basketball for more than a decade, has been an in-studio co-anchor for ESPN's coverage of women's college basketball since the beginning of the season along side Dales-Schuman. A three-time Olympic gold medalist and two-time WNBA champion with multiple MVP awards, she might know a thing or two about the game...

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Players with Range

Leslie, Lawson and Dales-Schuman are not the first prominent female basketball players to take a turn behind the microphone. Hall of Famers Nancy Lieberman and Ann Meyers have been working both college and WNBA games for ESPN for years. Rebecca Lobo retired from the WNBA in 2003 and immediately went to work in front of the camera. Comets legend Cynthia Cooper broadcasts Houston Rockets games while Cheryl Miller has been one of the best NBA sideline reporters for a decade.

But unlike these all-time greats who got their start once their playing days were over, Leslie, who knew she wanted to be in television at an early age is taking advantage of the WNBA offseason to get a head start.

"One of my goals when I was seven years old was to be a weather reporter," she said. "I have always wanted to be on television and in front of the camera. I then started watching my own high school interviews and critiquing myself. I worked on my language and the words I used and worked on how I enunciate."

But she did not stop there. The California native enrolled at the University of Southern California on a basketball scholarship, following in the footsteps of some of the game's greats, including Miller and Cooper. While at U.S.C., she majored in communications and continued harboring dreams of breaking into television.

"One of my first broadcasting jobs was an opportunity to work the sidelines for TNT's NBA broadcasts," Leslie said. "Then I started doing some college games, the first and second round of NCAA games, and worked for Fox last season."

Lawson has already worked on men's and women's college telecasts, as well as ESPN's coverage of NBA games.

"I donít know if we can call it a career, but we can call it an experience for now," the third year guard said. "Iím trying not to think too far ahead and am just having fun with it for now. I just really love doing the NBA, college basketball and the NCAA Tournament."

Do Your Homework

Just as it takes an incredible amount of dedication and practice to excel on the basketball court, the same can be said about success as an analyst.

"I do a lot of research and watch 25 to 30 college basketball teams play," Leslie said. "I am definitely getting back into the swing of womenís college basketball since I graduated and left the game almost ten years ago. It is refreshing to see how the game has evolved and where the players have raised the talent level."

But not only can she spot talent on the court, she has also sought out some of the most respected personalities on the air for additional tips.

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"I have gotten some good tips from ESPNís Digger Phelps," Leslie said. "I have also talked with Rece Davis and Stacey Dales-Schuman, who I am working with at ESPN now, as well as Ann Meyers. There have been a lot of phone calls from well-wishers who are also happy that I have the job, though I canít say that there is one person that I am looking to or turning to every time except my boss there."

"The hardest part of the job is trying to pronounce everyoneís name correctly," Leslie said.

Not Always a Slam Dunk

While both Lawson and Leslie are admittedly still learning the ropes, both are enjoying their experiences behind a microphone.

"Itís different and challenging, and I like that," Lawson said. "When you practice basketball, you can go out there and practice your shot, but I donít feel myself getting better. A few months later, I can tell my shot is better, but you donít actually notice or feel yourself getting better. In broadcasting, you feel yourself getting better and more comfortable from segment to segment. You get certain things and grasp certain concepts, so I like that about it. When you feel the improvement, itís a confidence-builder."

Unlike Dales-Schuman, who admitted that her "passion and spirit for playing basketball has slowly diminished" over the past couple of seasons and left to pursue broadcasting full-time, neither Leslie nor Lawson is in any rush to hang up the jersey and sneakers just yet.

"It is a possibility that I would pursue this after I am finished playing," Leslie said. "This is definitely getting my feet wet in a career that is possible for me to flourish in."

Just don't try and pigeon hole her.

"At the same time, I enjoy doing menís basketball games as well. I also like fashion and style and I could do something totally different in front of the camera. At this point, I am open to just getting a feel for doing everything across the board."