The Greatness of Lauren Jackson: Why No Storm Player Will Wear Number 15 Again

Friday night at KeyArena, the Storm will host a postgame ceremony to retire the jersey of the legendary Lauren Jackson. Her banner will hang from the rafters alongside those of the two championships Jackson helped deliver, and nobody will wear No. 15 for the franchise again.

Jackson, who played all 12 of her WNBA seasons in Seattle, won just about every award in basketball, including a record-tying three Most Valuable Player honors. She was the franchise’s first No. 1 draft pick, first All-Star, first scoring champion and first MVP. She starred on the team that won Seattle’s first professional sports title in 25 years.

Her No. 15, also worn by Jackson’s mother during her own basketball career, will soon be the first jersey retired by the Storm.

“I don’t think there’s ever been a player more complete, from a talent standpoint, at both ends of the floor,” said Anne Donovan, Seattle’s coach from 2003-07. “Combined with the passion and toughness Lauren has, it’s really unmatched. It’s only fitting that she’d be up in the rafters.”

Jackson officially announced her retirement from basketball four months ago. She arrives from Australia on Wednesday, returning to Seattle for the first time since 2012.

Just how dominant was she? Hall of Famer Nancy Lieberman once referred to Jackson as an alien: “I don’t know what planet she comes from, but she is that good.” She’s seventh all-time in points, ninth in rebounds and third in blocks despite not ranking in the top 20 in games or minutes played. After being drafted No. 1 overall in 2001 as a 19-year-old, Jackson was voted an All-Star by opposing coaches in her rookie season. Two years later, she became the youngest MVP in league history.

One of the many skills that made Jackson unique for a frontcourt player was her ability to knock down perimeter jumpers. The 6-6 center shot 35.1 percent from three-point range, finishing her career among the all-time leaders in threes made. Her 45.2 percent from long distance in 2004 was the second highest in the WNBA and stands as the best percentage in franchise history.

“She told me as a very young player that she wanted to be the best player in the world,” said Storm head coach Jenny Boucek, an assistant in Seattle during Jackson’s career. “It was a momentous feeling because we knew it was possible.”

Jackson, who made her debut for the Australian National Team at age 16, is the only WNBA MVP born outside the United States. When Australia won the bronze medal in 2012, Jackson became one of just six basketball players of either gender to earn four Olympic medals. She holds the all-time Olympic scoring record in women’s basketball with 575 points over four tournaments.

With Jackson, it’s an endless list of records set and trophies won. And yet, they barely begin to tell the story of her unforgettable career.

Never afraid to show emotion or say what’s on her mind, Jackson was called for a half dozen technical fouls in the first 17 games of her career. She claimed to the media it was because referees couldn’t understand her accent. Jackson had a fierce rivalry in WNBA and international play with Lisa Leslie, a living legend at the time and someone Jackson idolized growing up. During the 2000 gold medal game, a 19-year-old Jackson ripped off Leslie’s hair extensions as they battled for a rebound.

During her Finals MVP speech in 2010, Jackson nonchalantly said, “Our team completely dominated the league this year, and we showed it throughout the playoffs.” She had her hair dyed bright red at the time, something she decided to do while bored on a road trip.

Jackson often played through injuries, including a 36-point game with a broken back in 2009.

“Bottom line is I’ve never played with anybody who has the look in her eyes that Lauren has every single night,” said Storm point guard Sue Bird, who arrived in Seattle one year after Jackson. “She never took a night off. Obviously she was insanely talented, but it’s her intensity that sticks out when I think of her as a teammate. I think everybody who has played with her learned that the hard way early on, because she just can’t help her intensity.”

Of course, injuries were the reason Jackson’s Storm career ended in 2012 at age 31. Throughout her career, she constantly dealt with ankle, hamstring, shin and back problems, among others. She barely got to play in her prime years, missing the 2008 and 2009 playoffs and battling injuries during the two postseasons after the 2010 title.

Jackson is undeniably one of the all-time greats, as evidenced by her selection to the WNBA’s All-Decade Team in 2006 and Top 20 honor this year. But what if she had been injury-free?

Of all those in the top 15 on the all-time scoring list, Jackson played by far the fewest games. She had the two best individual seasons ever by advanced statistics, and her 2007 campaign was the most decorated in league history: MVP, scoring champion, rebounding champion and Defensive Player of the Year. Jackson averaged 23.8 points and 9.7 rebounds per game on 51.9 percent shooting that season, posting the best player efficiency rating of all time.

“I knew when we drafted Lauren in 2001 that we were going to win championships,” said Lin Dunn, Seattle’s first-ever head coach. “The Storm has won two championships, and I honestly think they could very easily have four or five had she been able to stay healthy.”

Even though she didn’t go out on her own terms, Jackson will forever be an icon in the game of basketball and in the city of Seattle. She was there from almost day one of the franchise’s existence, provided countless memories and had immense success. Friday is a chance to officially say goodbye and reflect on a remarkable career.