2022 FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup: Australian legend Lauren Jackson primed for encore  

Injury deprived her of a send-off worthy of her talent. Now the 41-year-old will get a second bite of the cherry as she makes a triumphant return to basketball at the FIBA Women's World Cup at home in Sydney, Australia. 

By Chloe Merrell
Picture by 2022 Getty Images

22 September, 2022, will mark a significant moment in the life of Lauren Jackson.

It will signal the completion of a six-year-long retirement comeback to international basketball so remarkable that it has captured the hearts of an entire nation.

Jackson, 41, retired from hoops in 2016 a seasoned legend.

A two-time WNBA champion, three-time WNBA MVP, four-time Olympic medallist, league winner in Russia and Spain; the 1.96m Hall of Fame star accrued all the necessary accolades to be deemed the greatest Australian to have ever played the game.

But mid-way through the season, six years ago, a chronic knee injury ultimately forced her out of her sport, denying her an ending fitting for someone so decorated.

There was no World Cup in 2014, and there would be no fifth fairytale Olympic outing at Rio 2016. Instead, 2013 would be the last time Australian’s most precious Opal would wear the green and gold before stepping aside.

It might be coined ‘unfinished business’ that a player of Jackson’s calibre, one still recognised in the statistical annals of WNBA, would want for more than her retirement at the time allowed.

After hanging up her jersey Jackson stayed connected to basketball. She worked in sports administration, had two sons and wrote a book about her glittering career.

But still the embers of ambition crackled away within her. And with new treatment Jackson found herself able to return to court.

Little did she know that just six months after signing to play for her home team, the Albury-Wodonga Bandits, in the semi-professional NBL1 league that she would be embarking on a journey that would eventually land her in Australia’s 2022 FIBA Women’s World Cup squad.

And yet, sure enough, Jackson made it. 

READ MORE: 2022 FIBA Women's World Cup: Preview, schedule and stars to watch with Paris 2024 spot at stake

Lauren Jackson: A Hall of Fame career

Born in Albury, New South Wales to two former international basketball players, Gary and Maree Jackson, a young 'LJ' didn’t have to go too far for inspiration.

Jackson began practising hoops at the age of four, and by high school, she was being tapped on the shoulder and beckoned to the national side.

At just 14 years old, the burgeoning talent was offered an Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) scholarship and was then invited to make her debut for her country with the Under-20s.

After impressing onlookers at the 1997 World Junior Championships, where Australia struck silver, Jackson was then immediately siphoned off into the senior team where she made her debut the very same year.

As she began to make her mark in the national colours Jackson also started her WNBL career. Then, in 2000, Jackson, still a teenager, made her Olympic debut on home soil in Sydney.

The silver around her neck after the Games, would be the first of four medals she would clinch in the national colours. That, and the gold the Opals would go on to win at the World Cup in 2006, showed that Australia's fortunes on the world stage were to be intimately bound with their new superstar player. When she rocked; they roared.

In 2001, the rest of the world got to revel in Jackson’s exploits after she was picked first in the WNBA Draft by the Seattle Storm.

The Australian would play a total of 12 seasons and 338 games in America, lifting the Storm to two championship titles (2004, 2010) and earning the Finals MVP honour in the latter.

The award for her Finals efforts was another in a long-line that acknowledged the centre's overwhelming dominance on the court.

However, Jackson was forced to walk away from the league in 2012 due to a slate of injuries. And when she called time on her career altogether in 2016, the Storm retired the number 15 in recognition of her commitment to the franchise. It was the first jersey ever to be retired by the outfit.

In 2021, the one-club player was one of two international players to be named in the 'W25', a list highlighting the best 25 players ever to have competed in the WNBA. It was an accolade topped just days later when Jackson became the first ever Australian to be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

Lauren Jackson: Career in numbers

  • First pick 2001 WNBA Draft
  • WNBA Finals MVP (2010)
  • World champion (2006)
  • Commonwealth Games (2006)
  • Two-time WNBA champion (2004, 2010)
  • Four-time WNBL MVP (1999, 2000, 2003, 2004)
  • Four-time Olympic medallist (2000, 2004, 2008, 2012)
  • Five-time WNBL champion (1999, 2002, 2003, 2006, 2010)
  • Seven-time WNBA All-Star (2001-2003, 2005-7, 2009)
Lauren Jackson competing at the London 2012 Olympics where Australia would go on to take the bronze medal
Picture by 2012 Getty Images

Lauren Jackson on making 2022 World Cup team: "I had a bit of a cry"

Nearly a decade on from since she last represented Australia, Jackson has spoken candidly about what her call-up to the 12-squad for this September’s World Cup means to her:

“There were a lot of emotions when Sandy [Brondello] rang me, I had a bit of a cry to be honest,” Jackson said.

“I have been working my body hard, and I didn’t honestly know if it was going to hold up to my intense training regime, but it has and I’m feeling good.”

The Opals are currently ranked No.3 in the world and, with the news of Jackson’s return, the home team threaten to pack a punch in the tournament.

The 2018 silver medallists will have experience in New York Liberty’s Bec Allen as well as star-power in fellow WNBA players Ezi Magbegor, Steph Talbot and Kristy Wallace.

“Representing Australia means a whole lot more to me now than it did when I didn’t know anything else,” Jackson said to ABC News.

“I understand that I’m not the player that I used to be. I’m not as athletic, but I think that the minutes that I will play, they’ll be good minutes.”

And while the spotlight will naturally fall on Jackson, and the Opals, as Australia welcomes 11 other world-class teams for the World Cup it won’t stop shining on her then.

Jackson will extend her comeback to include elite basketball as she is set to make her WNBL return with the Southside Flyers after the World Cup ends.

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