Lauren Jackson Much More Than a Basketball Legend in Australia

An infinite amount of words could be used to describe the career of Lauren Jackson, who will have her jersey retired after the Storm’s game against Washington on Friday. When fellow Australian players discuss her legacy, however, there’s not much one can say that would do it justice.

“I think legend is loosely thrown around these days,” said Storm guard Jenna O’Hea, who played with Jackson on their country’s National Team. “She’s so much more than that in Australia. I don’t even know what the word is. Whatever is above legend, because everything she’s done for basketball in Australia is amazing.”

A native of Albury, Australia, Jackson started as a professional basketball player in her mid-teens. She made her debut for the National Team at age 16, becoming the youngest player to ever represent her country. Following in the footsteps of a mother and father who both had stints with the National Team, Jackson guided her team to medals at four straight Olympic games and was her nation’s flag bearer at the 2012 Olympics, the first Australian woman to do so in 20 years. Jackson called it the proudest moment of her life.

By the end of that 2012 tournament, Jackson held the all-time Olympic scoring record in women’s basketball.

“Growing up, I always looked up to her,” said Storm forward and fellow Australian Abby Bishop. “She means everything. What she’s done for women’s basketball and basketball in Australia is huge. She’s put us on the map. She’s inspired many, many people that aren’t even sports fans. I think nobody’s going to be able to do what she’s done.”

Jackson is the one who paved the way for Bishop and numerous other Australian players currently in the WNBA. There were Australians in the league before she arrived, but Jackson and former Storm teammate Tully Bevilaqua became the first to win a title when Seattle earned its first championship in 2004. Jackson claimed a record-tying three WNBA Most Valuable Player awards in her 12 seasons, and she remains the only MVP born outside the United States.

“What she’s accomplished in the USA – the best league in the world – is a true measurement of just how good she was,” said Dallas Wings guard and fellow Australian Erin Phillips. “That’s going to be hard for anyone to match. She’s one of the greatest of all time, if not the greatest.”

Jackson was a perennial All-Star in the WNBA, finishing her career with averages of 18.9 points, 7.7 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game. The 6-6 center led the Storm in scoring every season except one from 2001-10, also pacing the team in rebounding and blocked shots each of those years.

Bishop, for one, will never forget the 2010 championship season, when Jackson was named MVP in both the regular season and the WNBA Finals.

“It’s something that I’ll be able to look back on forever and say that I won a WNBA championship, and I was also alongside Lauren Jackson,” Bishop said. “She definitely took me under her wing that season and helped me a lot. I do look back on that season and smile.”

After officially announcing the end of her playing career in March, Jackson is already getting involved in a different way. She was recently named executive and commercial operations manager for the Melbourne Boomers, one of eight teams currently playing in the Australian WNBL.

Jackson, who will also sit on the board of the Boomers, is set to begin her new role in August.

“It’s really, really vital. I think a lot of people are grateful she is staying involved,” Bishop said. “What she brings as a person, how she speaks to people, I think it’s huge for women’s sports in Australia. She’s got a voice. She’s got a platform. For her to stay involved in the game, it is really big because the WNBL is kind of struggling at the moment. We need all the help we can to get that league back to where it was years ago. And I think it’s a great start getting Lauren Jackson involved.”