An Aussie MVP
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 priveleged 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 condeded 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 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.
"I play this game because I love it, I do it to please myself and only myself and when the day comes that I don't love it anymore I will walk away ... basketball is a love, you do it 'cause you love it." (Lauren Jackson, 2006)