Aaron Last/Storm Photos
For Third Time, Jackson is WNBA's MVP
Kevin Pelton, stormbasketball.com | Sept. 2, 2010
When Seattle Storm star Lauren Jackson learned on Tuesday that she had been voted the WNBA's Most Valuable Player presented by Kia Motors for the third time in her illustrious career, the news came with a catch. Other than family and close friends, she had to keep the award secret until it was made public on Thursday.
"I'm just really happy," Jackson said in an interview with stormbasketball.com. "Having to keep it under wraps is hard because I want to tell everybody. I know there are a lot of people at home [in Australia] who are going to be so happy."
At first, Jackson suspected the late notification might have been a sign the MVP had gone elsewhere. She found out shortly after the regular season when she previously won Most Valuable Player in 2003 and 2007, awards that were presented to her at the WNBA Finals.
Even though Indiana's Tamika Catchings and New York's Cappie Pondexter made cases for MVP with their performances and outshined Jackson late in the season when she was resting in anticipation of the playoffs, the dominance of her season was impossible to deny. Jackson ranked in the WNBA's top 10 in scoring (20.5 ppg, fifth), rebounding (8.2 rpg, eighth) and blocks (1.2 bpg, sixth) while leading the Storm to a record-tying 28 wins and a 17-0 record at home. Her numbers could have been even better had Jackson not played limited minutes down the stretch.
By contrast to Jackson's previous two MVP campaigns, when she carried a heavy load for Storm teams that went 18-16 (2003) and 17-17 (2007), this time Jackson stood out as part of a balanced attack that allowed the Storm to run away with the Western Conference. As a result, Jackson believes that the league's ultimate individual award was really about far more than just her performance.
"I think this is a testament to my teammates," she said. "I would never have gotten it if we hadn't achieved so much as a team. Sue (Bird), she never gets any personal accolade, but without her I'd never have gotten this award. I feel very fortunate to have had all the pieces around."
Still, make no mistake. The Storm's success began with Jackson.
"It's a tremendous balance of who Lauren is and what she can do," explained Storm Head Coach Brian Agler, who advocated on behalf of Jackson's MVP candidacy. "I think she helps bring the best out of her teammates as well. The respect she gains from opponents really lets her teammates play to their strengths. Because we have players who can do really good things playing to their strengths that have to be recognized and dealt with, it gives Lauren the freedom to step up and play her game and play to her strengths as well.
"It's a great situation to have, but I think it all revolves around the respect that our opponents have toward Lauren and what she's able to do. Now, just because they respect that and focus on her, does that limit her? No. She's so good that she can still put up the numbers."
Agler ticks off Jackson's strengths as if going down the checklist that defines a great player. Great passer? Check. Can score from everywhere on the floor? Check. Tremendous free throw shooter? Check. Has a variety of back-to-the-basket moves? Check. Can play out of double-teams? Check. Versatile defender who anchors the league's best defense? Check.
During his three years in Seattle, Agler has seen only one thing hold Jackson back - her health. After her previous two seasons were cut short by injuries, including a stress fracture in her back suffered last year, Jackson worked tirelessly to rehab and come back better than before. As the culmination of that process, this MVP award is a special one for her.
"Sometimes I think that after the last 24 months I've had, a lot of people wrote me off and maybe I wrote myself off," said Jackson. "Through the last 24 months I've had, it's awesome. It caps off this period where I've had to try really hard to get back where I was and I've had to work really hard. It's definitely been a learning process and I've grown a lot. I think for my family and my friends, for Brian, who have seen me go through it all, it's a thank you to everybody who supported me."
"When she was hurt last year, I wasn't able to coach her on the floor because she was out, but what I tried to do was keep her motivated and focused on getting better," explained Agler. "The thing I told her was that Lisa Leslie received two of her MVP awards after she turned 30. I tried to ring that note in to Lauren multiple times because I wanted her not to get too down about what was going on that time with that specific injury.
"I also wanted to let her know that just because you're seeing the end of your career coming up, that doesn't mean that you don't have great years ahead of you - and maybe even your best years still ahead of you. It rang true this year. She focused, she committed. I know she had a great team of specialists to work with in Australia and I know she took full advantage of that."
By winning her third MVP award, Jackson tied Leslie and former teammate Sheryl Swoopes for the most MVPs in WNBA history. She continues to etch her name into the league's history books and is now part of an elite group of three-time MVPs across sports. Just seven NBA players have won MVP three times or more. Jackson was already the first player in Seattle professional sports history to win multiple MVP awards.
In the midst of a playoff run, Jackson has a hard time putting those accomplishments in perspective.
"I haven't thought about that," she said. "I probably will eventually, but it's still so raw. It doesn't even feel real, to be honest. I think at the end of the season when you don't have so much to think about it, it will probably be something I will reflect on."
As honored as Jackson is by the individual awards she has received throughout her career, they are not the reason she plays the game. There's another trophy Jackson has her eye on, and her focus remains on what the Storm can accomplish in the WNBA Playoffs.
"There's definitely no time to sit back and celebrate," she said. "We've got to get straight into it and play Phoenix tomorrow. I'm excited about it, obviously, and probably more excited about the opportunity to play for the Western Conference championship."