Lauren Jackson returns to Seattle: Star cherishes fan support, overwhelmed by emotion

The best player in Seattle Storm history and one of the greatest athletes to come out of Australia announced her retirement in March, leaving many die-hard followers of women’s basketball saddened that they would never get to see her play again. While fans, especially those in Seattle known as “Storm crazies” knew Lauren Jackson’s retirement was imminent, it was still a sad day for them when their two-time WNBA champion hung up her sneakers during a press conference in Australia. However, those fans and other admirers of Jackson across the league will get to see “LJ” at least one more time as the Storm welcomes her back to the Emerald City this week for a jersey retirement ceremony on Friday.

Jackson has not played for the Storm since 2012. Nearly each season since her absence has started with an announcement from the team that she would not be playing due to injury. In 2015, the culprit was recovery from surgery to repair a torn meniscus and an injured Achilles heel. As Jackson battled injury after injury, fans have continued to show their appreciation for the seven-time WNBA All-Star.

“The support that I’ve had from America, the fans and the people over here has been amazing. I think that’s the one thing that I’ll always take with me and never forget, how loyal and caring the fans are about the players,” said said Thursday afternoon in a conference call with media. “Everything that I’ve been through the past few years, the Storm fans have been with me and supported me. They’ve followed me after and it’s been unbelievable, really. In Australia we don’t have support like that. There are a few people but not in the numbers that I get from here. That’s something that I think is beautiful. It’s nice.”

As the most decorated Australian women’s basketball player, Jackson has helped pave the way for younger players in her country. Those youngsters include the members of the 2016 Under 17 FIBA World Championship team. The Australian U17 women, also known as the Sapphires, won the first-ever youth international competition for their country earlier this month, earning accolades from Aussie stars in the NBA, WNBA and Jackson.

“It’s a really exciting time for women’s basketball in Australia. Everyone is excited about the new crop of talent coming through. It’s really exciting. They deserve support. It’s going to be fun for a lot of people to watch these kids and their careers flourish and take them to different places in the world.”

Jackson’s role models as a youth included her mother Maree, who was a standout player at Louisiana State (1976-1978). The elder Jackson wore No. 15 during her two seasons playing college basketball and set program and SEC records for rebounding.

“My mother used to wear number fifteen and she was my hero, idol and best friend growing up and I wanted to follow in her footsteps. I took her number as soon as I could get it.”

As she thought about her WNBA career, she made it clear that she worked the hardest when she was playing in the United States.

“I think that because America is so important to women’s basketball and this league, I always wanted to be the best that I could be here. I was just talking to the team and that was one of the points I made, that it didn’t matter where I was in the world, I always trained harder, put in more hours in the gym, shot more, did everything that I could here in America because I wanted to be the best here and that drove me. I guess that’s a testament to this league and how much respect I have for it. Not a day goes by I don’t miss being over here and playing, it’s kind of sad actually.”

While she says she did not really have any favorite players that she relished competing against, she did comment on two players that were difficult matchups: Sylvia Fowles and Lisa Leslie.

“When Sylvia Fowles came into the league, I always had trouble with her because she’s so strong, in the post in particular. She definitely gave me grief. You have to get up and go though. I guess Lisa and her sort of stand out as individual players.”

In addition to re-connecting with the Storm and the team’s fans, Jackson has also made time to visit her favorite haunts in Seattle.

“The first thing I did was go to the Metropolitan Market which is like a grocery store here but I call it my spiritual home. I went there and stocked up on goodies and all things Seattle which is fun. There are a lot of things here like record stores, places I used to hangout in that I really missed and we don’t really have that stuff in Australia so I’ve missed everything about Seattle and almost want to move back.”

Jackson was included the WNBA’s list of the 20 most influential players in the league’s history last month, three months after retirement. She is still getting used to the fact that she is no longer an active professional player, something she talked about in a roundtable with media after the conference call.

“I focused so much on trying to get back to the court and be okay that I think I have put my feeling about not being here to the side a little bit in order to focus on my rehab, but when we landed in Seattle yesterday I was crying. I don’t think I realized how affected I was by the retirement.”

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