August 6, 2022
‘I’m really glad to be a part of tonight’: Inside Lauren Jackson’s return to Seattle
Jackson and former Storm teammate Abby Bishop returned to Seattle to celebrate Sue Bird
SEATTLE – As the WNBA regular season winds down in Seattle, Climate Pledge Arena hosted many notable people courtside on Wednesday, including NBA star Jordan Poole and Death Cab for Cutie lead singer Ben Gibbard. But the biggest star of the night was former Seattle Storm sensation Lauren Jackson, who made the trip from Australia to witness the Sue Bird “Farewell Tour.”
Jackson was selected by the Storm as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2001 WNBA Draft after a phenomenal basketball career in Australia in her teens. She was only 20 years old when she arrived in Seattle as a rookie with the expectations of being a franchise player for the Storm. Just a year later, the Storm selected another No. 1 draft pick to join the roster: Bird. Bird and Jackson led Seattle to WNBA championships in 2004 and 2010 and were a dynamic duo for 12 seasons.
Jackson was plagued with injuries at the end of her career and played her last game with the Storm in 2012. During her WNBA career, Jackson was a seven-time All-Star and a seven-time All-WNBA First Team player. But to her, she’s “just an old athlete.”
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Storm fans, players, and coaches warmly welcomed Jackson back on Wednesday night, when the Storm took on the Minnesota Lynx at Climate Pledge Arena. About 15 minutes before tip-off, cheers erupted from the crowd as Jackson walked to her courtside seat, drink and phone in hand, alongside fellow former Australian Storm player Abby Bishop. Before tip-off and during breaks in the game, countless fans approached Jackson and Bishop for photos and to share stories of the old days of the Seattle Storm. During a game break, the Storm honored Jackson with a video with clips of some of her biggest accomplishments in the WNBA and interviews of former teammates and coaches. Jerseys with Jackson’s signature number 15 and fans with signs from Jackson’s time with the Storm filled Climate Pledge Arena.
While Jackson was in the spotlight at Wednesday’s game, she continued to emphasize the reason that she came back to Seattle in the first place: watching her close friend and former teammate play in a Storm jersey for the last time.
“This moment is hers. She deserves the fantastic send-off that she’s been getting from everybody,” Jackson said of the support that Bird has received since announcing her retirement. “What she’s been able to do in her career on and off the court has been phenomenal. I don’t think there will ever be anyone like her.”
Jackson raved about the kind of teammate that Bird is and the leadership that she has brought to 18 Storm rosters. “On Sunday, most of the Storm players from both of the championship teams will be here supporting her, and that’s the sort of impact she left on the people around her,” Jackson said. “She’s just been an incredible athlete and incredible role model for not just the fans, but the people that she has played with and the people that she’s worked directly with. This is such an awesome time, and I’m just really glad to be a part of tonight and just see her play.”
Aside from Jackson and Bird’s connection on the court, they also had a strong friendship off the court that has continued even now that they are across the globe from each other. “I think it just evolved,” Jackson said of their friendship. “What we did on the court just happened really organically, as did our friendship. Nothing that we did was forced, and that’s why we developed the sort of bond that we had and that we still have to this day. It’s special.”
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Ten years after hanging up her jersey, Jackson’s legacy in Seattle still lives on. The Storm currently have two Australian players on their roster, Ezi Magbegor and Stephanie Talbot. Similar to Jackson, Magbegor was drafted by the Storm at 19 years old after making a name for herself in Australia. Jackson, who is very connected with the Australian national team (also known as the Opals), talked about her close relationships with Magbegor, Talbot and the other Australian players in the WNBA. “It is fun to see that Australia still has a connection with Seattle and we still have players here,” she said.
Jackson had to return to Australia on Thursday, but the jersey with her name and number that hangs from the rafters of Climate Pledge Arena is a constant reminder of Jackson’s legacy in Seattle.