Jackson and Seattle a Perfect Match
Kevin Pelton, stormbasketball.com | Aug. 4, 2010
My favorite part of the page we put together celebrating Lauren Jackson's 10th season in Seattle is the series of photos, one from each season, that show Jackson over the years - shown above. In simple, elegant fashion, the pictures tell the story of Jackson's development and transformation throughout the decade she has spent with the Storm.
Jackson arrived in Seattle just a baby, a reserved teenager playing away from home for the first time. 10 seasons later, Jackson is a confident, mature superstar who has played professionally on four continents and won a world championship on a fifth. Yet, as shown by this year's move to a new hair color - a fiery red that Jackson says fits her personality - she isn't done evolving yet.
This week's celebration of Jackson's decade with the Storm is a chance to pause and reflect on everything she has meant to the Storm - and what the city of Seattle has come to mean to her.
When Jackson first arrived here after being selected by the Storm with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2001 WNBA Draft, she was put at ease by the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest, from the Puget Sound to the Cascade Mountains. But she was also nearly 8,000 miles away from her native Australia and badly homesick.
"There's definitely a lot of nostalgia when I think about it, like when I first came over to Seattle and I was so scared and I just didn't know what to expect being away from home," Jackson recalls. She can laugh at that notion now, because Seattle has become a second home to her. She recalls noticing the transformation before her third season with the Storm.
"When I initially came here, the first year I was scared of coming back and the second year I was kind of scared of coming back," she says. "The third year, I was like, 'I'm here now.'"
Fittingly, 2003 would also be a turning point for Jackson on the court. No longer was she the WNBA's next big thing, the rising star. She was a force to be reckoned with, the league's leading scorer and a nightly double-double threat. At season's end, Jackson was awarded the league's MVP for the first time. A year later, Jackson and her teammates would find that same pinnacle at the team level, leading the Storm to the WNBA championship.
Somewhere along the way, Jackson went from youngster - it wasn't until 2005, Jackson's fifth season, that she was displaced as the Storm's youngest player - to veteran and Seattle fixture. Now, she's become one of just six players in WNBA history to play at least 10 seasons with the same team. Is that difficult to imagine?
"Yeah, really hard to believe," she says. "I think it's gone really quickly, that's for sure. It's kind of scary, actually. Looking back on it, it has flown. I don't know how much longer I'm going to be playing, but I'm definitely past my halfway point."
It's hard to think in those terms when Jackson remains very much in her prime. She holds pole position to win her third MVP award, having led WNBA.com's Race to the MVP rankings 11 weeks running. Jackson's average of 21.4 points per game is the second-best mark of her career, trailing only her MVP 2007 campaign, and her average of 8.7 rebounds a night ranks fourth in her career. Already, Jackson has been honored as the league's Western Conference Player of the Week presented by Kia Motors five times and has won all three West Player of the Month awards to date.
At the tender age of 29, Jackson is putting together quite a career resume. She's bearing down on Katie Smith, who is currently third on the WNBA's all-time scoring list. Having more than doubled Smith's scoring average this season, Jackson could make up the 55-point gap before the season is up. This year saw Jackson move into the league's top five in career rebounds, and she is the WNBA's active leader in blocked shots (third all time).
The Storm has gotten the benefit of all that production, having been able to write the world's best basketball player into the lineup for 10 years and counting. But Jackson feels lucky as well to have had the consistency of the Storm, which she calls, "the most stable thing in my career." She's played for several teams overseas and, aside from last year's return to the Australian WNBL, rarely gets to go back home for extended periods. Compared to that, Seattle and the Storm offer Jackson a familiar sanctuary.
"You just become comfortable with your surroundings," she says. "I think the fans are unbelievable in the way that they're out every game supporting us. It's pretty awesome. I'm very fortunate to be part of the Seattle community and have played here so many years."
The relationship between Jackson and the Storm was in jeopardy two years ago when, as an unrestricted free agent for the first time in her career, she considered her options elsewhere. The Phoenix Mercury tempted Jackson, but the process of making a decision only reaffirmed the important place Seattle and the Storm had assumed in her life.
"I'm really fortunate and I'm glad that I had this time to think about it and really put what I love about Seattle in perspective and how I would feel if I left," she said at the time. "I think that I would have lost a huge part of me if I had gone from Seattle, so I'm just glad that I got this opportunity to have this time and realize how important it is."
At the same time, Jackson's free agency afforded Storm fans the chance to show Jackson how much she really meant to them. E-mails flooded the inbox the organization set up for fans to share their thoughts, and when Jackson received the book collecting those messages, she was touched by the genuine emotion.
"Getting those e-mails, I really had no idea how passionate people were about the Storm and me coming back," she said. "When I saw that, I think that was pretty much the clincher right there. It's hard to make a decision like that based on personal feelings, but when you've got the fans out there and people that really want you back and you can put things into perspective, it definitely changes things for you."
A decade into her career in Seattle, Jackson simply wouldn't want to play anywhere else.
"It's home now," she says. "Fortunately, I got to be able to be a part of the team and the franchise and I love it here."