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Still, the impact of one or two megastars can't be completely discounted. Larry Bird and Magic Johnson helped rescue the moribund NBA when they came into the league in 1979. And hockey minus Wayne Gretzky might have gone into a steep slump.
"I think we do need that one star that even people who aren't that familiar with the game can recognize," says Leslie. "It not only gets the attention of the public, it gets the attention of the kids who will grow up to be the next superstars. The next Cheryl Miller, whoever she is, can have an impact on women's basketball for years after her career is over."
But there are many people who believe the sport has greater needs. One is for a pro league that will allow players to stay in the public eye longer. Although there have been plenty of attempts to form a profitable professional league, none has been able to survive more than a few seasons. "If there's a lack of identifiable superstars in our game," says VanDerveer, "it's partly because they have no way to stay out there in front of the public when their college careers are over."
Others think the game needs the dunk to be as big a part of the women's game as it is of the men's, which would require—besides lowering the rim—finding more players like Leslie.
All of it—the development of a high-profile star, the changing of the game to add more excitement—is meant to appeal to television. "We have to have more television exposure," says Virginia coach Debbie Ryan. "A few games on CBS and ESPN are not enough. It wasn't until Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova were on TV that they became household names."
In some ways, Leslie's development is indicative of what the women's game lacks. She had never heard of Cheryl Miller and didn't know anything about basketball until she was in the seventh grade—and 6'2"—and a friend, Sharon Hargrove, who now plays for UNLV, encouraged her to play. Until then, Leslie had been busy ignoring people who thought it was strange that a girl her size wasn't a basketball player.
Once she did start playing, she patterned herself after male players, because she simply didn't see women playing basketball very often. "There weren't that many role models, at least not many that I knew of," Leslie says. "If, by the way I play, I can be a role model or encourage someone else, that would be great."
It will also mean the women's game will have taken the final step. And no sport can ask its stars for more than that.