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Lauren Jackson ripping Lisa Leslie's hair out heated up a decade-long beef. Was it intentional?

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00:00   |   May 28, 2019

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Lauren Jackson ripping Lisa Leslie's hair out heated up a decade-long beef. Was it intentional?
Lauren Jackson ripping Lisa Leslie's hair out heated up a decade-long beef. Was it intentional? thumb Lauren Jackson ripping Lisa Leslie's hair out heated up a decade-long beef. Was it intentional? thumb Lauren Jackson ripping Lisa Leslie's hair out heated up a decade-long beef. Was it intentional? thumb

Transcription

  • - Lisa Leslie and Lauren Jackson
  • are two of the greatest basketball players ever
  • and their primes as MVPs,
  • champions and international stars overlapped quite a bit.
  • Leslie and Jackson played roughly the same position
  • at roughly the same time, not just for rival WNBA teams,
  • but for rival Olympic teams who met
  • over and over again on the biggest stage.
  • That much opposition makes one thing
  • pretty much inevitable, beef.
  • (soft music)
  • Lisa Leslie was one of the founding stars of the WNBA,
  • front and center when the league came together in 1996.
  • The six-five center had burst onto the scene
  • with a dominant high school career.
  • She once scored a 101 points in a half
  • which is not a number I can like wrap my head around.
  • Leslie then went from a superb collegiate career at USC
  • to being leading score for the unstoppable
  • USA team at the 1996 Olympics.
  • A gold medal run that notably included
  • a semi-final win over Australia.
  • So, it was no surprise to see Leslie
  • as one of the prominent faces publicizing the nation league,
  • nor as the literally the first person
  • to touch a WNBA basketball
  • as center for the Los Angeles Sparks.
  • When the league held its first All-Star game in 1999
  • Leslie started for the West
  • and once the league's first dynasty, the Houston Comets,
  • came apart Leslie and the Sparks were poised to take over.
  • But by that point Leslie knew
  • a fresh challenge was emerging.
  • She'd found that out from international play.
  • In 1998, Leslie made the Australian national team
  • feel her presence by hitting
  • one of their forwards in the face
  • at a pre-FIBA World Championship Tournament in Japan.
  • That helped build a rivalry that would only grow
  • when Australia's next great center
  • asserted herself in a bigger role.
  • Lauren Jackson is the daughter of basketball stars
  • and was groomed as a hoops prodigy
  • long before she hit six foot five.
  • By 1999, when Team Australia came
  • to the US for some tournaments,
  • the teenage Jackson had emerged
  • as one of the Opals' top contributors
  • and in a game against the host country
  • Jackson introduced herself to Leslie
  • with a sharp elbow to the rib cage
  • and some unabashed trash talk in the veteran's face.
  • Though Jackson was injured for Australia's loss to the US
  • in the final of that tournament
  • she'd made her point with big scoring numbers,
  • rugged play against Leslie
  • and an explicit warning after the fact.
  • I'm not gonna sit back and let some Lisa Leslie go at me.
  • I don't care what she says to me
  • because one day, I'll be as good as her.
  • That final statement was bold, but not outlandish.
  • Jackson was the presumptive number one pick
  • whenever she decided to enter the WNBA draft.
  • And in the lead-up to the Sydney Olympics
  • it wasn't unusual to mention the 19 year old's name
  • among the world's best players.
  • Here's a 2000 LA Times article
  • in which the author argues Jackson is like Leslie
  • except better at driving to the hoop
  • and Leslie's American teammate, Dawn Staley,
  • says, Jackson has potential
  • but Leslie is the best player in the world.
  • Which, like, if that argument even needs to be made
  • you are a pretty exceptional 19 year old.
  • Leslie herself said as much.
  • So, there was some hype building
  • for a potential Olympic showdown
  • between the USA's best and Australia's challenger.
  • And the hype only intensified
  • when the Opals played the Americans again
  • in a pre-Olympic exhibition
  • and the two players exchanged some bumps
  • after Jackson got tied up with Sheryl Swoopes.
  • Jackson reportedly stared Leslie down and asked,
  • you want a piece of me?
  • And after the game she proclaimed once more
  • that she wasn't just gonna stand for any bullshit
  • from the older star who she'd previously accused
  • of trying to intimidate her.
  • For what it's worth,
  • Leslie was less invested in the back and forth.
  • She admitted that there was a rivalry
  • but insisted she and Jackson didn't really meaningfully
  • get into it during that exhibition
  • and only Jackson was agitated about the exchange.
  • Oh, and by the way, scoreboard.
  • Reflecting on these match ups in her autobiography
  • Leslie paints the teenage Jackson as the instigator.
  • She talked trash to Leslie and cursed her out
  • in spite of the fact that their coaches rarely matched them up
  • to avoid conflict and foul trouble.
  • Well, come Olympic time
  • guess who faced off in the gold medal game.
  • The US crushed Australia like always
  • but Jackson came away with 20 points, 13 rebounds
  • and also a fistful of Leslie's hair.
  • Yeah, so, I want to get some testimony
  • from Leslie, from Jackson and from some witnesses
  • before we analyze the tape ourselves.
  • In her book Leslie explains that she took down her braids
  • and pinned a fake ponytail to her hair for the final
  • so she wouldn't have to deal with all that
  • in the quick turnaround between post-game
  • and the flight out of Sydney.
  • Well, late in that USA victory
  • Leslie was lined up during a free throw
  • and though she's not certain
  • thought she saw one of the Australians tell Jackson
  • to give that ponytail a tug and Jackson did just that.
  • After they fought for a rebound
  • Jackson yanked Leslie's ponytail right off her head,
  • deliberately, says Leslie, leaving the victim
  • to collect her ponytail and toss it over the baseline.
  • Leslie kept her cool the rest of the game
  • even as the fans of the host nation pointed and laughed.
  • Even as the photographer
  • who caught the hair waved it around.
  • After the game, Jackson apologized to Leslie,
  • but when the gold medalist asserted
  • that only a hard intentional yank
  • could've released the ponytail
  • and Jackson knew exactly what she was doing.
  • Jackson insisted that wasn't the case,
  • that her fingers got caught
  • and years later Australian captain Michele Timms
  • backed her teammate saying Jackson was too busy playing
  • to notice Leslie's hair situation
  • and that accusations of the deliberate yank were ludicrous.
  • But there's more.
  • The night of the incident an unnamed Australian player
  • told Lisa Olson of the Daily News
  • that the hair thing was intentional, that it was payback
  • for the Americans' dirty play and their attitude.
  • Players in the locker room, after the fact,
  • weren't talking about the silver medal
  • they were chattering about the hair.
  • Though Timms vouched for Jackson
  • she also clearly took some cruel satisfaction
  • in seeing Leslie's hair on the floor
  • and in an interview for Australian television,
  • Jackson didn't seem apologetic,
  • claiming the only fabulous moment of the tournament for her
  • was when Leslie's hair came out.
  • A couple of years later,
  • Jackson still said it was an accident
  • but implied that Leslie deserved it.
  • Hmm, okay, you ready?
  • Let's go to the tape.
  • So, the first thing I want you to notice is the ball.
  • The rebound comes off of the rim
  • and neither Leslie nor Jackson
  • has a real chance to grab it.
  • Now watch Jackson.
  • Her right hand swings up, apparently to contest the shot,
  • but it comes down backhanded with some force
  • and if you freeze it right there,
  • I think that looks like grabbing, not getting caught.
  • Even the way Jackson releases the hair, smoothly,
  • without any visible surprise is to me suspicious.
  • So, I want to know what you think
  • but based on the testimonies, the witness statements
  • and the video evidence I'm ruling Lauren Jackson guilty
  • of intentional hair removal.
  • According to beef law, the sentence for Jackson's crime
  • is that Lisa Leslie gets to have the last word.
  • So, let's go to her comments at the podium after the game.
  • Quote: I told her she could have the hair,
  • I'll take the gold.
  • Got 'em!
  • Anyway, Timms argued that Leslie was trying
  • to get in Jackson's head somehow,
  • that she didn't know how good the kid was.
  • But, she clearly hadn't asked Leslie
  • who said if Jackson came to the WNBA she'd be huge,
  • that she had all the tools to be a great player
  • and in fact she'd love to have Jackson on the Sparks.
  • No such luck.
  • In a 2001 draft absolutely packed with great players
  • the soon to be 20 year old Jackson
  • went number one overall to the Seattle Storm.
  • A western conference team hoping
  • to one day rival the Sparks.
  • Jackson broke out instantly becoming a rookie All-Star
  • alongside Leslie in the West,
  • but the Storm didn't improve much.
  • And while Jackson did score
  • a rookie season high of 26 points
  • one night against the Sparks
  • Leslie led LA to a regular season sweep of Seattle.
  • She went on to win her first MVP trophy,
  • then win the Sparks the 2001 Championship.
  • The first WNBA titled not won by the Houston Comets
  • but Jackson had reinforcements on the way.
  • With another number one pick in 2002
  • the Storm added another huge name in future legend,
  • UConn point guard Sue Bird.
  • The towering center had a perfect new co-star,
  • the creative and deadly Bird.
  • The Storm could actually rival the Sparks now
  • and the second time LA and Seattle met that year
  • Leslie got tangled up with Jackson
  • and threw an elbow into her back.
  • It didn't get called a foul
  • but it did precipitate a pretty rowdy fight
  • between their teammates.
  • Fight aside, that was Jackson's first ever
  • win over the Sparks.
  • Leslie warned that the teams would meet again in a few weeks
  • and she felt bad for what the Storm had coming.
  • But what they had coming was another W.
  • Just days after Leslie made history
  • with the WNBA's first in-game dunk
  • Jackson's clutch free throws against the Sparks
  • sealed a fifth straight win for a team en route
  • to its first playoff birth
  • and a first round match up against the Sparks.
  • It didn't go so hot.
  • Leslie controlled LA's two-game sweep
  • and at one point dropped Jackson with a knee to the groin.
  • I would love to show you a clip of that
  • but there is way too little WNBA video on the Internet.
  • Anyway, the wounded Storm star finished
  • that decisive game two
  • with just four points on one of nine shooting.
  • The Sparks went on to win their second title
  • and the domination continued the following month in China
  • when Leslie and the US wrecked Australia
  • on their way to a gold medal in the FIBA World Championship.
  • Jackson was perhaps too eager to best her rival
  • and spent much of that semi-final loss
  • on the bench with foul trouble.
  • For the next couple of years Jackson and Leslie succeeded
  • without crossing paths much.
  • They were All-Star teammates again in '03,
  • but Leslie injured her knee in that game
  • and sat a bunch of the season.
  • Seattle, meanwhile, missed the playoffs
  • but under new coach, Anne Donovan,
  • Jackson became more of an inside force
  • and won her first MVP.
  • In 2004, Leslie returned strong and took back the trophy
  • but MVP runner-up Jackson with Bird back at her side
  • led Seattle to their first title.
  • The Storm avoided LA in the playoffs
  • when the Sparks fell in the first round.
  • In '05, another potential playoff showdown fell through
  • when both teams lost in the first round
  • and even when their paths did cross
  • there was a lot of avoiding taking place.
  • Jackson claimed her rival and All-Star teammate
  • still didn't talk to her
  • because she hadn't gotten over the hair incident
  • which Jackson still described as an accident
  • but they couldn't avoid each other in the 2004 Olympics
  • where the US once again beat Australia in the final.
  • This time, Leslie had Jackson's WNBA teammate,
  • Sue Bird, by her side as America ran away
  • with the game in the fourth-quarter.
  • Jackson herself had another disappointing Olympic final
  • scoring just 12 points on 16 shots
  • while her rival took home a third Olympic gold.
  • By the middle of the decade
  • Jackson was a fully formed superstar,
  • not far behind Leslie in the 2006 MVP voting.
  • Leslie certainly wasn't gonna
  • hand the throne over to Jackson,
  • but before another Spark-Storm playoff series,
  • she spoke highly of her foe's maturation.
  • She still saw Jackson as a physical player
  • who beat her up on the block
  • but she'd apologized when it got out of hand.
  • Jackson was good and now she just played ball
  • with less of the extracurricular stuff.
  • Leslie said they even talked
  • and exchanged compliments at the All-Star game
  • and Jackson herself basically agreed
  • that she had grown up a bit.
  • These words all preceded
  • a typically chippy first round series.
  • Jackson outplayed Leslie during a game won Seattle victory
  • but Bird missed opportunities late in game three
  • and the Storm blew Jackson's last and best chance
  • at beating the full-strength Sparks.
  • And I don't think Jackson ever got the satisfaction
  • of beating Leslie that she craved.
  • In 2007, Jackson won an MVP again
  • but Leslie was out that whole year
  • after giving birth to her first child
  • who interestingly enough is named Lauren.
  • Leslie insists that's a coincidence.
  • In 2008, Leslie returned and once again
  • led the US to an Olympic gold medal game against the Opals.
  • Leslie told her teammates,
  • there's only one Lauren Jackson and five of us,
  • which accurately predicted a game America dominated
  • despite Jackson's 20 points and 10 rebounds.
  • Leslie rubbed it in by wearing all four of her golds
  • in her last Olympic medal ceremony.
  • Jackson meanwhile needed ankle surgery after the Olympics.
  • So, she could only sit and watch
  • as Leslie and the Sparks beat the Storm
  • in yet another playoff series.
  • In 2009, Jackson once again missed
  • the Spark-Storm playoff series with injuries.
  • Leslie claimed Seattle was actually more dangerous
  • without Jackson then led LA to another series win.
  • In 2010, at long last, Jackson stayed healthy,
  • matched Leslie by wining a third career MVP,
  • finally led Seattle to a series victory of the Sparks
  • and eventually won her second title
  • but it wasn't quite the same
  • because Leslie had already retired.
  • And that was it.
  • Jackson left the league a couple years later.
  • She'd cemented herself beside Leslie,
  • among the greatest WNBA bigs ever.
  • But her team never beat Leslie's in a major event
  • despite numerous opportunities.
  • 2012 was Jackson's final Olympic appearance.
  • The Australians lost to the US in the semi-final,
  • but Jackson broke Leslie's Olympic career scoring record
  • before passing the torch
  • to the next great Australian center.
  • And I think this beef has a happy ending.
  • It started out as a petty, lopsided feud,
  • defined by what was either a bizarre accident
  • or more likely a cruel and immature act.
  • It ended just as lopsided, but it came a real rivalry
  • defined more by physical play
  • and mutual respect than hatred.
  • These two definitely didn't become friends
  • and they might never,
  • unless Jackson someday apologizes for the hair pull.
  • That just might do it and there's still time.

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Description

For a while, Lisa Leslie was arguably the best women's basketball player on the planet. She put up jaw-dropping high school numbers, dominated in college, and became a foundational star not only of the WNBA, but of the powerhouse United States Olympic team.

But a few years into her professional career, a new contender emerged: Lauren Jackson, who first battled Leslie as the teenaged star of perennial Olympic runner-up Australia, and then as her WNBA counterpart on the Seattle Storm, rival of Leslie's Los Angeles Sparks.

Leslie and Jackson's rivalry included dirty play, open feuding, and some good, old-fashioned gritty basketball ... but it also included one extremely weird incident. In the 2000 Olympic gold medal game, Jackson swung her arm in a strange way that removed Leslie's ponytail extension from the back of her head. While the beef had more important moments, that bizarre one generated the most conversation and controversy. So ... was it intentional? Jackson and Leslie have never agreed on this topic, so we've gotta investigate.

Oh, and don't tell anyone we showed you this, but here's a sneak peek at something new coming to SB Nation: /watch?v=ojLjmSbyVGw

Produced by Seth Rosenthal
Shot and edited by Joe Ali
Motion graphics by Michael Das

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