Not many people can say they're the first person in the world to do something, but Lisa Leslie is on that list for many reasons.
She is the first athlete to win four consecutive gold medals in a team sport. She's also the first WNBA star to win MVP for the season, MVP for the all-star game, and MVP for the playoffs. Most notably, she's the first WNBA superstar to work in Ben's Woodshop.
Ben said, "Lisa focuses on community and leadership and using her platform to give people a voice. We've got the perfect project to honor someone in our community that likes to do the same."
While Lisa is most known for her record-breaking career in women's basketball, her love for mentoring youth and inspiring personal growth in athletics and beyond is her primary job now. Ben thought it would be great to build a piece that will allow others to become more confident and inspire greatness in the community.
Recently, the Laurel High School Girl's Basketball team won the State Championship with the coaching and direction from Coach Cooley. Coach Cooley was set to retire the year before, but her players begged her to stay for one more season. They worked hard to win one last championship for her. It sounds like an inspirational movie, right?
Ben said, "So the cool thing about Coach Cooley is that it's less about raising incredible athletes and more about raising incredible people. I went to the school and talked to them, and they said We don't have a podium. So I wanted to do something for the basketball team, but then also something that was more for the community as well."
Ben and Lisa sketch out a plan using plexiglass and bright wood accents so the platform will mimic the appearance of a basketball court. They use Maple for the frame and mahogany to pay tribute to Laurel's High School colors, maroon and gold.
Lisa said, "The main thing is this creates an opportunity for young people to be able to stand up, to be able to speak, to be able to give back to the community. So I think at this point, we probably shouldn't even call it a podium; we'll call it a platform. It's a space of power and also a place of communicating need, bringing leadership, and all those things."
Ben used the opportunity to ask about Lisa's family and how she got where she is today.
Lisa shared, "My Granny was a mail carrier, and then my mom became a mail carrier. Then once my mom got pregnant with my younger sister, she decided that she wasn't making enough money to take care of three girls, so she became a truck driver. My mom sat us down and told us to give her five years to give us a better life."
She continued, "So she would leave on a Monday morning, and she was gone most of the month. I think that was the toughest time in my life and my sister's life. It's sad to be without your mom for that long, but it also made me stronger. It made me a leader because I had to take care of my little sister."
The woodworking duo got back to work and began cutting angles and joints to fit together easily.
Ben remarked, "All the woods act differently. I wanted to use Maple because basketball courts are built from Maple. Maple doesn't really expand and contract; it's hard and still has flex. So if you're looking across a court and players are running on it, you will see the floor give and flex a little bit. Players will tell you they prefer to play on a wooden court because you can jump a little higher and it feels better on your knees and your shins."
Lisa admits that she wasn't a naturally talented basketball player when she first began. Her older cousin, Craig, sacrificed his time to take her to the gym and teach her the game rules.
She said, "I remember the first time we went to the gym, and I was just going there to play. He made me put the ball down, and he said Either you're going to play basketball, and you're going to get serious, or we're not coming back again. He taught me that it's not just about basketball; it's about taking care of your body, which was so helpful."
Perhaps her older cousin knew that Lisa Leslie would be a household name in a few short years. She would become a legend in high school by scoring 101 points in one-half of a game. News outlets flocked to her high school to capture her story, and the US was mesmerized by her athletic ability at such a young age.
Soon, she would attend USC to establish the Women's Basketball program and build a name for herself. She says that her journey to college would inspire younger people to strive for their educational and athletic dreams, and it motivated her to keep going and pave the way even further.
Ben brought up one of her most infamous world records, naming Lisa as the first woman to dunk in Women's National Basketball. Yet she says her most memorable moment happened in 1996.
She said, "Winning two WNBA championships was amazing, and I've won several MVP awards. I don't know all of my statistics, but nothing beats winning the gold medal on the 1996 Olympic team. Hearing 35,000 fans chanting USA was the highlight of my career. It still gives me chills."
When the woodworking team finally completed the platform, they crashed the Laurel High School Girl's Varsity practice with a big surprise. Astonished expressions covered the girls' faces when they saw their basketball hero and basketball legend walk through the door.
Lisa decided to make an impromptu speech and presented Coach Cooley with her new podium. She said, "I'm not just here to bring this platform, but this will hopefully inspire you, young ladies, to use your voice and platform to speak. You may not play pro basketball, but whatever you choose to do — do your best."
Coach Cooley and Lisa Leslie have excelled in basketball, but their most significant role has been raising role models and young leaders in their communities. Lisa had a role model to encourage her in her younger years, and now she has graciously offered that to the next generation.
Be sure to stop by the Scotsman General Store and Woodshop to see what Ben builds next and watch new episodes of Ben's Workshop on Discovery+ now!