With an illustrious career that began 25 years ago, the WNBA’s three-times most valuable player is considered one of the greatest athletes to ever take to the field in women’s soccer.
As the daughter of two national basketball team players, it seemed like greatness was always in Lauren Jackson’s destiny. At just 16, the teenage powerhouse joined the Australian Institute of Sport, where she later led the team to a national championship at 18. Suddenly she became a player known only by her last name, capturing the attention of audiences around the world as she performed on the court marked by athletic prowess, incredible speed and an unrelenting drive to succeed.
When Jackson became the WNBA’s #1 draft pick in 2001, no one was surprised. It was a title she had long earned through her discipline and unwavering dedication to her craft, and now she also deserves the title of the Women In Sport Hall of Fame.
The award not only recognizes Jackson’s glittering career, but also the incredible legacy she left on the world of basketball, especially here in Australia. Now 41, she has been a four-time Australian national team Opals Olympic medalist, a two-time WINBA champion with the Seattle Storm, a three-time WNBA Most Valuable Player, Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame inductee, and most recently led the Opals to a FIBA bronze -Women’s Basketball World Cup.
Upon accepting the award from Melbourne, Jackson said, “What an honor to be inducted into the Hall of Fame… I want to thank my parents who, without them, have been so supportive and best friends throughout my career. I can’t imagine what I would have achieved without their support.”
The latter is an achievement of particular significance for Jackson, who sidelined much of the 2014 season through injury and eventually retired from the sport in 2016. and I was on a lot of really hard drugs. When I retired and then had my kids, I made a decision that I would never go down that path again,” Jackson reflects. “There was a lot of work I had to do emotionally to get back to a point where I felt really strong and worthwhile as a person.”
Never one to shy away from a challenge, however, Jackson worked hard on her fitness and athleticism to return to the court. Earlier this year she signed with NBL1 semi-pro Albury Wodonga Bandits before being named to the Opals roster for the World Cup tournament in September – a whopping 12 years after her last appearance in the competition.
As she spoke about what it meant to represent Australia again, Jackson expressed her emotional reaction. “I started thinking about my children [Harry, five, and Lenny, three] and the sacrifices they make for me. Just having to process everything as it comes every day – it was a completely different journey than the one I went on years ago as a professional athlete.”
Jackson was already considered Australia’s greatest player in history, but her comeback has only helped cement her place as a true Hall of Famer. Returning to the pitch with the Opals in September meant once again demonstrating their sportsmanship and leadership skills on the pitch and giving the crowd another glimpse of the greatness that has shaped their careers.
Although her achievements on the pitch have led to Jackson being branded a hero of women’s football and an icon of basketball in general, it is her children who represent the greatest highlight of life. “It’s knowing that I have to be the best version of myself for these kids,” Jackson says.