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Lisa Leslie says today’s basketball players can’t match ’90s work ethic

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Opposites attract when it comes to former roommates, teammates and longtime friends Lisa Leslie and Dawn Staley.

The WNBA legend stopped by Dawn Staley’s new podcast Netlife to reminisce about her illustrious career, including her time on the court with Staley.

The teammates first met when Staley was a freshman in college and Leslie was just a junior in high school. With Leslie projecting a laidback California demeanor and Staley sporting an east-coast toughness, the two couldn’t have been more different. What bonded the friends, however, was their shared commitment to the game of basketball.

“What we have always had in common is our work ethic,” says Leslie, “and our work ethic was like, it does not matter who is in front of us, we are going after it, we are going one hundred percent.”

The former Team USA and Los Angeles Sparks star reveals that fighting for her teammates is what kept her passion for the game alive. Staley shared in that same mentality.

“We were of the same cloth,” Leslie tells Staley.

Playing on the 1996 Olympic team together, Leslie remembers the entire squad sharing their grit and resilience.

“It wasn’t the best players in the country, the 12,” recalls Leslie, “but we had the best chemistry and the best understanding of sacrificing self for the team.”

The 1996 USA Basketball team went on to win the Atlanta Summer Games, capturing national attention and elevating the profile of women’s basketball.

With the exposure and connectedness that comes with social media, Leslie isn’t sure if the hunger of the 1996 group could be replicated by players today.

“I don’t know that their level of passion and work ethic is the same,” says Leslie. “They want the glitz and the glamor, they want the deals already, but who is in the gym at six in the morning?”

Despite the grind, It wasn’t all work and no play with Team USA. Staley and Leslie remember getting their laughs in while playing for multiple Olympic teams.

One memory in particular still makes the two laugh, reminiscing about a failed “circle the wagon” drill. In order to complete the game, each player had to net a layup and collect a rebound in succession without letting the ball hit the floor, or else the drill would start over.

“Of course, we are professionals, so you should make layups. But unfortunately on this day, Tina Thompson has missed two layups so the drill keeps starting over,” Leslie recalls.

The first time Thompson missed the team was understanding. By the second, people started to lose their patience, and then the third was simply too much for some teammates to take.

Upon whiffing her third attempt, teammate Sheryl Swoopes yelled out, “Damnit, Tina!” The moment instantly became an inside joke for the team and is still referenced to this day.

Listen to more behind-the-scenes Team USA stories with Staley and Leslie here.