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WNBA's president: 'I got called racial slurs every day'

  • Lisa Borders discusses how she chose Duke University.
  • "It was being accepted early admission that helped validate the fact that I had achieved what I was supposed to achieve," she says.

In the world of women's basketball, many players have overcome discrimination. That's also true for the president of WNBA.

Lisa Borders grew up in Atlanta in the 1960s, at a time when segregation, and the racial tension that accompanied it, were deep rooted.

As one of the first African-American students in an integrated school, "I got called racial slurs every day, so I was always about proving myself," she said. Even though it was a scary situation, that early adversity was "an acute lesson."

Her solution was to work harder. "I was so focused on doing well."

WNBA President Lisa Borders during the 20@20 ceremony honoring the top players in WNBA history, during halftime of Game 1 between the Minnesota Lynx and the Los Angeles Sparks during the WNBA Finals on October 9, 2016 at Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
David Sherman | NBAE | Getty Images
WNBA President Lisa Borders during the 20@20 ceremony honoring the top players in WNBA history, during halftime of Game 1 between the Minnesota Lynx and the Los Angeles Sparks during the WNBA Finals on October 9, 2016 at Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Duke University, one of nation's best colleges, was the prize.

"Frankly, it was being accepted early admission to Duke that helped validate the fact that I had achieved what I was supposed to achieve," the 59-year-old Borders said. "Duke was willing to bet on me, and that was profoundly inspiring for me and rewarding."

"It was being accepted early admission to Duke that helped validate the fact that I had achieved what I was supposed to achieve." -Lisa Borders, president, WNBA

She said she chose the North Carolina school for three reasons: academics, accessibility and proximity to Atlanta. In addition, Borders had seen many pictures of the school's chapel. "It was just as I imagined," she said. "It did not disappoint."

Borders started college with the goal of becoming a doctor but changed course midway. "I liked science and I liked medicine, but I didn't love it," she said. "Whatever you do in life, you need to love it."

So Borders switched her major to French, despite resistance from her family, particularly her father, who was a doctor. "I made a tough decision — the first of many that I would make in my life." To others, she advises "don't be afraid to change."

WNBA President Lisa Borders is seen before the game between the Phoenix Mercury and the Indiana Fever on August 30, 2016 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Ron Hoskins | NBAE | Getty Images
WNBA President Lisa Borders is seen before the game between the Phoenix Mercury and the Indiana Fever on August 30, 2016 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Indiana.

It was also at Duke that she discovered her love for basketball.

Today, Borders serves as a trustee of Duke and is a board member of the Atlanta Women's Foundation, in addition to holding other leadership positions in the community. She was instrumental in bringing a WNBA team to Atlanta in 2008, when she served as vice mayor and president of the City Council. She became president of the league in 2016.

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