Lauren Jackson

From humble beginnings in country Victoria, Lauren’s story takes you on an incredible journey from when she left home at the tender age of 15 to pursue her dream at the Australian Institute of Sport to today where she is arguably one of the best Basketballers ever.

In the 2012 London Olympic Games, Lauren Jackson was given Australian sports highest honour in becoming the Australian flag bearer. This came as no surprise due to her immense sporting achievements and leadership qualities. Not only has this honour confirmed her status as the number 1 Australian athlete, she is now one of the greatest in Australian sporting history. She also became the highest point scorer in Olympic women’s basketball history during the London Games.

Lauren has smashed yet another major milestone in her already exceptional professional career, becoming the youngest player ever to reach 6,000 career points in the US-based Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA). Jackson who will rejoin the Canberra Capitals in Australia’s own Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL) this season scored her 6,000th career point for the Seattle Storm during last Friday’s win over the San Antonio Silver Stars. Jackson became just the fourth player ever in WNBA history to score 6,000 points.

She is the epitome of women’s basketball in Australia, following in the footsteps and carrying on the traditions of grand mentors in the likes of Michele Timms, Rachael Sporn, and her mother Maree. These pioneers paved the way for Australian basketball to excel on the international stage, and Lauren stepped into the spotlight to lead her contemporaries and future generations to come with inspiration.

A leader by example, her work ethic and emotional divulgence into the game she so clearly loves is left on court for all to witness in awe and wonder. From Australia to Korea, to the USA and across Europe, Lauren has left a lasting impression wherever she plays. Her athleticism, ability, attitude, strength, and above all her passion, contribute to the phenomenal player and ambassador that she is for the game worldwide.

Lauren has a diploma of Business Management majoring in Development Psychology and is currently studying through Macquarie University for a Bachelor of Arts, majoring in Gender Studies.

The Early Years The daughter of Australian basketball representatives, Lauren was born with the genes to play the game but ultimately it was her individual desire and mindset to refine her talent that set her apart from others to become the player she is. With strong family bonds, particularly the support of parents Gary and Maree (a former LSU standout and record holder), growing up in a basketball culture did her no harm. From sleeping under the benches and travelling with her mother from a young age, she was exposed to the lifestyle and environment that set in her stead to set lofty dreams of winning Gold for Australia since she was two years old.

However it wasn’t all smooth sailing. Cockiness and a brash demeanour at the age twelve saw a shift in perspective that would ultimately influence the rest of her playing career. After a dramatic refusal to return to the court in an under-14s final, a mission statement ensued: “It has always been an athlete’s dream to be in the Olympics and now it is mine. The year 2000 Olympics is six years away and I have six years to show everyone what I am made of, not a bag of wuss like everyone calls me.” (1994)

Not your average Rookie Achieving that dream meant leaving home at the tender age of 15 with a scholarship to attend the Australian Institute of Sport under the tutelage of respected coach Phil Brown. As a group of up and coming development players, the AIS competed in the WNBL to gain experience against their much older counterparts to obtain greater basketball knowledge and physical strength. Lauren quickly excelled, earning Rookie of the Year honours in 1997 – the first of many accolades.

Half a world away, a momentous occasion was taking place with the inauguration of professional women’s basketball in the home of the hoops – the WNBA was established. Lauren and the WNBA were on opposite sides of the globe but had parallel visions of success and belief in the game. Unbeknownst to both parties, a collision course was set in place.

Her tall, agile frame and undeniable talent saw her fast-tracked to the national senior team. By 16 she became the youngest to ever don an Opals uniform and the rest of the world began to take notice of this “once-in-a-lifetime player” who Tom Maher spoke of so highly – “I’ve never seen anyone like her, for her age, for what she can do … never seen anyone in Australia or overseas, not close.” (Maher, 2000)

Averaging a point per minute off the bench for the Opals at the 1998 World Championships, her natural flair for the game glowed on the international scene, and was able to bring that new-found experience back to the AIS. The class of 1998/99 was not an average group of teenagers as they outshone the rest of the league to win the AIS’ first ever Championship; a feat unheard of considering their developmental aim. Looking back, the team was filled with players that would hold significant roles in defining the proceeding decade of Australian basketball. Lauren headlined the team of gangly teenagers, but was capably supported by the raw talents of Penny Taylor, Kristen Veal, Belinda Snell and Suzy Batkovic in a magical class. Before her 18th birthday, Lauren was the best player in the country, winning her first of a record four MVP titles, and had the team success to back it up.

Domestic Dominance and Olympic Dreams Graduating from that memorable class, Lauren moved on to begin a stellar career with the Canberra Capitals. In the year the AIS won the Championships, the Capitals were the wooden spooners of the WNBL. Enter Lauren Jackson. Four consecutive grand final appearances and three Championships saw Canberra rise to dominancy. Lauren was promoted as the official face of the league with this domestic success, but whilst the attention and spotlight may not have come naturally to the shy Albury native, the WNBL launched her into the international spotlight of a childhood dream and the whirlwind stage of the WNBA.

Just a few short years earlier, Lauren was a frustrated young player with a vision. That vision became reality when in September of 2000, she braved the world’s watchful eyes to proudly represent Australia at the Sydney Olympic Games. Her youth and valour mixed brilliantly with the experienced hands of Timms and Brondello to combine for Australia’s first ever silver medal in basketball. Despite falling short in the final to the much-favoured Team USA, Lauren’s performance forced even more people to take note of her game by demonstrating she could hold her own against the best the sport had to offer.

Heading Abroad In 2001 she packed her white-line fever to the imposing land of basketball’s world leaders, the United States. As the first Australian to ever be chosen with the first overall pick in an international and professional draft, Lauren Jackson was headed to the Seattle Storm – an expansion team that saw minimal on-court success in their first year. Named an All-Star in her first season, Lauren braved the physicality and arduous demeanour of the demanding American hooping lifestyle. Furthermore she was away from the unwavering support of her family, an element she relies upon for strength. They were no longer just a few hours down the road from Canberra. Despite tough times, Lauren knew the WNBA provided an unparalleled chance to improve her game.

Help arrived in 2002 with the drafting of All-American Sue Bird. Together with Lauren, the dynamic duo formed the foundation of the Storm franchise and as young leaders their chemistry and friendship on and off the court inspired the team to the 2004 Championship. The 2004 season was filled with obstacles, interrupted by the Athens Olympics and was a particularly trying period for Lauren with the passing of her grandmother. A year earlier, Lauren made history that broke down the stigma of American elitism in the sport. As the 2003 WNBA MVP, she was the youngest to earn the honour, but more importantly the first foreigner to be crowned Most Valuable. The historic moment showed the world foreigners had the skill, talent and ability to succeed with the right mindset and passion. America’s aura of invincibility had a chink in its armour – a 6’5 Aussie with focus, determination, and a game to envy.

Once again, Lauren brought her experiences home and the WNBL benefited from her profile and loyalty to the Australian league. The aura was now hers and inspirational play continuously left crowds amazed and privileged to be able to witness first hand one of the best athletes in the world.

The Pain of Success No one could stop Lauren Jackson except for herself, and after eight years of seemingly non-stop play which included twelve back-to-back seasons in the WNBL and WNBA combined, two Olympic campaigns, two World Championship tournaments and a stint in Russia, the body’s pain threshold reached its limit. Having played and dominated in pain, she had never been able to complete a full season. Stress fractures had already been troubling Lauren, but in 2004/05 she deservedly took a break and sat out the WNBL season to rest – mentally and physically. Returning to the court, Lauren finally completed a full season but conceded she would never be pain free. However, reward for all the perseverance and hard work was just around the corner… World Championship Gold.

Three successive minor placings at major international competition is a feat to be admired in itself, but Lauren and the Opals craved the ultimate prize. As the new captain of the national team, 2006 unfolded as a golden year under her leadership – a year to be remembered as the Opals and their predecessors were awarded with not one, but two Gold medals. The Commonwealth Games in March gave the Opals a taste of that shimmering success, and sure enough they backed it up with an even more prestigious title of World Champions. Beaming with pride and unconstrained delight, Lauren and her Opals stepped on to the dais, waved to the world, and treasured their Golden moment.

Lauren had the confidence and radiant belief to captain her team to glory with the help of inspired play from an old friend in Penny Taylor. For the Opals to be able to say they have the best player in the world, AND Lauren Jackson, is testament to the growth of Australian basketball and the play of Penny Taylor, the MVP of the World. Furthermore, upon receiving the trophy in a true captain’s gesture, Lauren walked down the line of Opals and respectfully handed the golden cup to the team’s longest serving current player in Jenny Whittle. A true touch of class.

Asia and Europe With success to her name internationally as well as domestic leagues in Australia and the US, Lauren’s next challenge led her to the fast-paced competition and cultural change of South Korea. In a bustling country where English is not the main language, Lauren proved the dialect of basketball passion and her personable nature transcended cultural bounds to form friendships with teammates and a chemistry that brought them to the finals. Whilst the WKBL title eluded Lauren and her Samsung Bichumi team, the media and fans were captivated by her skill-set and good-natured spirit.

The lucrative and competitive European market presented itself as the next challenge. With Sue Bird running the Spartak Moscow team and Diana Taurasi along side, the former UConn duo formed a formidable trio with Lauren as they went on to win back-to-back prestigious EuroLeague titles.

What’s Next? What the future holds is anyone’s guess, but the legacy Lauren is building will be remembered for generations to come. At the time of American dominance in the sport, Lauren showed the world a country girl from down under has every right and capability to mix it with the best, and even become part of the elite selection of players that will be reflected upon as the greatest of all time.