For our second player profile, we feature none other than absolute basketball legend Lauren Jackson AO. Arguably Australia's best player ever, Jackson has dominated courts in Australia and overseas for over two decades.
When asked about his opinion of Jackson, late basketball player Kobe Bryant said everyone he talked to had her in their top three players of all time. We here at Vortex are no different. At a decent 1.96m above ground and with exceptional technique, Jackson is a force on the field, and an inspiration for sports women and men across the world.
But where did she come from? And how did she go from being a country girl in NSW to the first Australian basketball player to make it into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame?
The Rise of a Prodigy
Lauren Elizabeth Jackson was born on the 11th of May 1981 in Albury, New South Wales. “Jacko”, as she is known to her teammates, came from a strong basketball family. Born of two former national basketball players, Jackson’s father, Gary, played for the Boomers in 1975, while her mother, Maree, played for the Opals from 1974 to 1982.
Taught by her mother, Jackson started playing basketball when she was four years old at the Albury Sports Centre. By the time she was six, she was taking part in competitive games, playing in an Under-10s side. It was at this age she told her teammates that she was going to play for Australia.
Eight years later, Jackson got her first taste of success, as she led her New South Wales team to a national gold. It was this game that drew the attention of national selectors. As legendary Opals coach Tom Maher recalls, “Right then and there, I said, 'is this the best thing I've ever seen?' It was just unbelievable.” By the time she was 17 she was being described as a basketball prodigy.
Lauren Jackson has had a highly decorated career across multiple national leagues, spanning over 20 years. During that time she won two WNBA Championships, was voted the League MVP on three occasions and was a seven-time WNBA All Star.
She also played regularly in the WNBL for the Canberra Capitals where she won four WNBL Championships, was named the WNBL MVP on four occasions and an All Star five times.
Described by many as Australia’s best female player to ever set foot on a basketball court, Lauren Jackson has amassed many awards across her career. Some of these include:
- Australian International Player of the Year in 1999, 2000 and 2002
- Inducted into the Australian Institute of Sport ‘Best of the Best’ in 2005
- Flag bearer at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London
- Appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia in 2015
- Inducted into both the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame and Sport Australia Hall of Fame in 2020
- Inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2021
A Comeback Story for the Ages
Despite her immense success, it was not all smooth sailing for Lauren Jackson. In 2016 her career ended abruptly, following a painful degenerative knee injury. Sadly, this meant missing the 2016 Olympics in Rio - an event she had hoped would be the last big-ticket event before she retired from the sport.
“I tried to suit up a couple of times,” Jackson recalled, “but I was just in so much pain that I couldn’t move.” Missing out was a cruel end to a two-decade basketball career. “It definitely wasn’t on my terms,”
she said (Kieran Pender for New York Times, 2022).
Following her involuntary retirement, Jackson moved back to her regional hometown of Albury, taking up a managerial role with Basketball Australia. But it would be hard to keep Jackson off the basketball court for good. Following years of surgery and with the help of medical marijuana, she was able to take to the court once again - albeit for a social, mixed game in her local town.
This ‘recreational’ return to the sport, however, would be the impetus for an unbelievable return to professional basketball. As her confidence grew, one thing led to another, and she returned to the Australian domestic league in February 2022. She then returned to the Opals training camp and soon competed for the national team in the FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup once again. Jackson helped her team win an impressive bronze medal, herself scoring a game-high 30 points in the final game against Canada.
The return of Lauren Jackson to professional basketball at the age of 41 exemplifies the grit and determination that has defined her entire career. She is an inspiration to sports and basketball fans across the world.