Lauren Jackson announced her injury-forced retirement on Thursday, ending an illustrious career which saw her star for the WNBA’s Seattle Storm and lead Australia to four Olympic medals.
At a Basketball Australia media conference, the 34-year-old Jackson, the WNBA’s most valuable player three times, the last time in 2010, said right knee and left Achilles tendon injuries forced her to end a career that began in 1997.
She had been named on Australia’s Opals squad for the Rio Games in August, but recent fitness testing convinced her she would not be able to play in a fifth Olympics. Jackson made the retirement announcement at Canberra’s Australian Institute of Sport, where her teammates are attending their first pre-Olympic camp.
“It really is so surreal retiring here where it all began 19 years ago,” Jackson said. “Today I’m announcing my retirement from the love of my life, basketball. Two years ago I hurt my knee playing in China, it wasn’t a terrible injury but it was enough — I pulled my meniscus out of the root of my bone.
“I didn’t think it was a big deal, nobody did. My knee ended up degenerating really, really fast, I got arthritis pretty quickly and since then I’ve had multiple surgeries.”
Jackson has spent more time off the court than on for most of the past six years — either in Seattle, with the Canberra WNBL team or stints with club teams in Spain and China. She also played in South Korea and four years part-time with Moscow Spartak, winning two EuroLeague titles with the Russian team.
She came close to retiring in January after being hospitalized with a knee infection following surgery, when she said she’d need an “absolute miracle” if she was going to play in Rio. She was also released from her WNBL contract with the Canberra Capitals, having played just six games in five years.
Jackson won Olympic silver medals in 2000, 2004 and 2008, losing the final each time to the United States. She also earned bronze at London in 2012, when she was Australia’s flag bearer at the Opening Ceremony. She first played with the Opals when in 1997 when she was 16.
“When I first saw Lauren and what she could do on the basketball court, I knew she was someone special,” said former Australia head coach Jan Stirling. “Throughout all of her accomplishments she has remained humble and through a 19-year commitment to the Opals, she never missed a major event.”
Jackson says she expects Australia to win gold in Rio “and it breaks my heart that I can’t be there.”
The 1.96-meter (6 foot, 5-inch) Jackson spent her entire WNBA career with Seattle, helping lead the Storm to a pair of titles in 2004 and 2010. But she hadn’t played a full season for the Storm since 2010 — just 13 games in 2011 and nine games in 2012.
Drafted by Seattle first overall in the 2001 draft, Jackson ranks sixth all-time in the WNBA in points scored (6,007), eighth in rebounding (2,447) and third in blocks (586). She also leads the Storm in all three categories, with her best game for Seattle coming in a then-WNBA single-game scoring a record 47 points, on 18-of-28 shooting, on July 24, 2007 at Washington.
“I believe Lauren is the most dominant player the WNBA has ever seen,” Seattle coach Jenny Boucek said. “I was fortunate to be around her for many years and every day we were in awe of something she would do on the court. We are grateful for her incredible impact on the franchise, the city of Seattle and the game.”
Jackson’s Seattle teammate Sue Bird said the Australian’s retirement was “sad … but it also gives all of us a chance to reflect on what an amazing career she had.”
“We accomplished a lot together on the court but it’s the friendship that we built off of it that I’m even more thankful for,” Bird said. “She’ll always be the best player this franchise has ever seen and one of the best teammates I’ve ever had.”