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Lauren Jackson: the journey of a basketball legend

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For her services to the game of basketball, Lauren Jackson AO was inducted as a Athlete Member into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame in 2020.

Lauren Jackson
Lauren Jackson

Many people still consider Lauren Jackson to be one of the best Australian women’s basketball players of all time. She has three silver and one bronze medal from the Olympics, a 2006 FIBA World Champion, two bronze medals (1998, 2002), and a gold medal from the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne. Jackson was the first overall selection in the 2001 WNBA Draft, and the Seattle Storm designated him as a “franchise player” right away. Throughout her more than ten years as a player in the WNBA from 2001 to 2012, she was named the league MVP three times, won two WNBA championships, and was a seven-time All-Star. As one of the League’s all-time great players, she has been included in the WNBA All-Decade Team (2006), WNBA Top 15 Team (2011), WNBA Top 2020 (2016), and the W25, which is a list of the top 25 players in WNBA history, in 2021.

Jackson spent time playing basketball for teams all over the world during her career, including ones in China, Europe, Russia, Spain, and South Korea, where she won the league MVP award and set a record for the most points in a single game with 56. She was named a five-time WNBL All-Star, a four-time League and Grand Final MVP, and an AIS (1) and Canberra Capitals (4) champion between 1999 and 2010 in Australia. After being named Australia’s best female basketball player in 2015, she joined fellow SAHOF member Lindsay Gaze OAM, who was inducted as a coach, as the first Australian player to be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2021.

Being the daughter of two Australian basketball players, her mother Maree played for the Opals from 1974 to 1982 and won two World Championships, and her father Gary played for the Boomers in 1975. Jackson’s competitive mentality and strong physical attributes made her a natural fit for the game, which she was always destined to play at the highest level. Even at a young age, she was referred to as a “basketball prodigy.” At the age of four, she began attending the Albury Sports Centre, and at six, she joined a nearby U10 team to play her first competitive basketball match. She was telling people around her even then that she would play for Australia in the future. Despite having a knee injury, she participated in the U14 Australian Country Championships Final when she was eleven years old. She was disappointed in herself after the game because of her performance and injury. She was told by her parents that she didn’t have to play if she didn’t want to, but she was right when she wrote a note to herself after the conversation, promising that “from this day on, nothing will stand in my way.”

Selectors for the national team took notice of Jackson when she was fourteen years old, after she led New South Wales to the gold medal in the National Championship. At that year’s U20 Championships, she made her debut on the national scene and took home the Bob Staunton Award for being the tournament MVP. She turned down a scholarship offer from the Australian Institute of Sport in 1997 when she was just 16 years old. She went on to represent Australia’s Junior Women’s Team at the World Championships in Brazil, where they took home a silver medal. Later, she coached an AIS team consisting of 16 and 17-year-olds to the WNBL Championship. At the 1998 World Championships in Germany, she won bronze with the Opals, becoming the youngest Australian woman to be named on the team. She joined the Canberra Capitals in 1999 after making her WNBL comeback for a second season. She played sparingly for the team until 2006, during which time she won four more WNBL Championships.

At the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, Jackson made her Olympic debut for the Opals and took home her first medal (silver). She scored 23 points and grabbed 13 rebounds in the gold medal game against Team USA, who was very dominant. She also led the team in points and rebounds. The team, unfortunately, was defeated by the Americans 76-54.

Jackson submitted a WNBA draft nomination in 2001, and the Seattle Storm selected her with the first overall pick. Compared to her previous 21-game WNBL seasons, she played 32 games in 11 weeks during her rookie season, which was a significant increase in intensity. However, Jackson made a smooth transition and scored 21 points in her debut game. In a game that featured four overtime periods, she also broke the WNBA record for the most minutes played in a single game with 55 against Washington. In her first season, she was named a WNBA All-Star, and she placed second in the WNBA Rookie of the Year voting at the WNBA Awards at the end of the season. Throughout her career, Jackson regularly traveled home to play with the Capitals during the WNBA off-season. However, following the 2001 season, she needed shoulder surgery, which prevented her from participating in the 2001–02 WNBL season. After a successful recovery from injury, Jackson led the Storm as captain in 2002, becoming the league’s youngest captain ever. He was also named a WNBA All-Star. She later competed for the Opals, which placed second in the 2002 World Championships held in China. In 2003, after 100 international games, she was awarded the Most Valuable Player title by the International Basketball Federation.

After averaging 21.2 points per game in 2003, Jackson was once again named a WNBA All Star and included in the 2003 All-WNBA First Team. She was the first player not born in the United States and the youngest player to win the MVP award in the league during the season. She also became the youngest player to reach 1,000 WNBA points. Then, in 2004, she was once more selected to the All-WNBA First Team after winning her first WNBA Championship.

As one of the biggest stars in the game going into the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Jackson lived up to her hype, averaging 22.9 points and 10 rebounds per game. When the Opals faced Team USA in their gold medal match in Sydney, she guided them to a second straight silver medal. She received her fourth consecutive WNBA All-Star jersey and was once more selected to the 2005 All-WNBA First Team after returning to Seattle for the WNBA season.

Jackson was selected to co-captain the Opals in the 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games, helping the team defeat New Zealand in the championship match to win the gold medal. She was instrumental in talks with Basketball Australia to have commemorative diamond rings made in honor of the victory. She captained the Opals team, which won gold medals at the 2006 FIBA World Championships in Brazil, becoming the first Australian team to win gold in a World Championship. By this point, Jackson’s career trajectory was practically unstoppable, and it carried her into the 2007 WNBA season, which was arguably her most successful due to her selection as a 2007 All-Star, WNBA MVP, WNBA Defensive Player of the Year, and member of the All-WNBA Team. She averaged 23.8 points per game, which was more than any other WNBA season. She also set a league record for the most points scored in a single game with 47 against Washington, a record that Jackson continues to hold. She also made WNBA history during the season by becoming the first player to reach 4,000 career points. Over the season, she achieved a top ten ranking in no fewer than twenty-eight distinct statistical categories.

At the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Jackson captained the Opals and scored 17.3 points and 8.6 rebounds per game while leading the team to a silver medal, their third in a row. Later that year, she averaged 20.3 points and 5 rebounds per game in the FIBA Diamond Ball Tournament for Women. Despite her struggles, Jackson managed to have a less memorable 2008 WNBA season. The highlight of the season was a season-high 33 points scored in a game against Washington once more; the clear low point was surgery to address a persistent ankle injury. She unfortunately missed her team’s opportunity to advance to the second round of the playoffs—the Seattle Storm. Jackson recovered in 2009, shooting an incredible 43% from three-point range, being named to the 2009 All-WNBA Team, and becoming a WNBA All Star for the seventh time—all while dealing with stress fractures in her back.

Jackson was selected to the 2010 All-WNBA Team, captured her second WNBA Championship with the Seattle Storm, and participated in the Stars of the Sun game as a member of the WNBA All Star Team. She received this WNBA MVP Award before the Storm’s Western Conference Finals series against Phoenix began. Jackson led the Storm to the WNBA Finals, where they defeated the Atlanta Dream, and she was named the MVP of the WNBA Finals. Additionally, she guided the Opals to the Czech Republic’s 2010 FIBA World Championships.

Jackson was selected as one of the Top 15 players in the fifteen-year history of the WNBA by fans prior to the 2011 WNBA season. Sadly, she suffered another injury in 2011 that kept her out for most of the season. Against Tulsa, she hurt her hip, necessitating surgery and missing 20 games. Nevertheless, the Storm won eight of their next nine games after her return.

Jackson competed in four and the final Olympics in 2012, but her preparations for the games were severely derailed by an injury that prevented her from training with the Opals until April. In June, she also tore her adductor muscle. She tried to be as fit as possible for the London Games by sitting out the majority of the WNBA season. Jackson received recognition for her amazing Olympic career, which saw her become the highest point scorer in Games history when she was selected to carry the Australian Olympic Team flag during the Opening Ceremony. Even though she was sidelined for most of the tournament due to an injury—this time a hamstring strain—the Opals overcame the odds to win the bronze medal. She became the fourth player in WNBA history to reach 6,000 career points when she rejoined the league in September and led the Storm to two lopsided victories over Tulsa. Despite being signed to the Storm until the end of 2014, she played her last WNBA game during the 2012 playoff series against Minnesota. Jackson was also sidelined for the 2014 FIBA World Championships with the Opals due to these injuries.

Jackson had surgery on her hamstring in 2013 and missed the entire WNBA season. In 2014, she had surgery on her knee and Achilles tendon, which prevented her from playing in back-to-back seasons. Her goal was to play again with Seattle in 2015, but her knee had other ideas and needed more surgery, so she abruptly shifted her attention to the Rio Olympic Games in 2016. Jackson made a valiant effort to prepare for the Games because she intended to use them as her final international competition. However, her injuries did not heal fully, and she acknowledged that she would require a “complete miracle” to recover in time.

Unfortunately, that miracle never happened, and in the beginning of 2016, she declared her retirement from both the WNBA and international basketball.

Jackson played frequently for the Canberra Capitals in the WNBL during her amazing WNBA career. She was named an All Star five times, the WNBL MVP four times, and the WNBL Champion four times. She also excelled and won numerous awards in the Russian, Spanish, Korean, and Chinese club competitions.

Jackson was the Opals’ 2008 and 2012 team captain in addition to competing in four Olympic Games and winning three silver and one bronze medal. Following two bronze medal finishes in the previous two tournaments, she guided the team to gold in the Commonwealth Games in 2006, silver at the 1997 Junior World Championships, and the 2006 FIBA World Championship.

After retiring, Jackson worked as an administrator for the game she adored, stating, “It’s important now where I put my time and energy.” Rather than working in the media, I want to get involved in the political side of sports, and I need to learn from those who have been there before.” In addition to her appointments as Managing Director of Basketball Australia’s Empowered Athletes Transition Program and Head of Women’s Basketball, in 2018 Basketball Australia announced that she would be taking on a new strategic role in 2021, one that would allow her to concentrate on the BA Women and Girls Strategy and achieve results related to gender equality in basketball.

Awards and Accomplishments

  • 1999, 2000, 2002: Named Australia’s International Player of the Year
  • 2005: Inducted into the AIS ‘Best of the Best’
  • 2001: First Australian to be selected with the No 1 overall pick in the WNBA Draft
  • 2011: Albury Sports Stadium renamed “The Lauren Jackson Sports Centre”
  • 2015: Made an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO)
  • 2018: Won the IOC Women in Sport Award for Oceania
  • 2018: Graduated from Canberra University with Bachelor’s Degree in Gender Diversity
  • 2018: Appointed as Basketball Australia’s Head of Women in Basketball
  • 2019: Inducted into the Australian Basketball Hall of Fame
  • 2020: Inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame
  • 2020: Inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame
  • 2021: Inducted into America’s Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame as an International Player
  • 2021: Inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame
  • 2021: Appointed to the WNBA 25th Anniversary Advisory Board
  • 2021: Appointed to the Sport Australia Hall of Fame Board

 

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