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Jackson Celebrates MVP Honors

Lauren Jackson has never been one to be impressed by individual accomplishments. Both because of her laid-back, Australian surfer attitude and her focus on the team, Jackson is believed when she says that individual honors don’t matter much. “Those sort of things I don’t really think about,” Jackson said earlier this season, referring specifically to voting for the All-Star starting lineup. “I just go and play every game. All the little things don’t really bother me that much. I just want to win, basically.”

For winning MVP, Jackson received a brand new Chevy Trailblazer. She sits behind the wheel with Ackerman looking on.
Allan Einstein/ NBAE/Getty
Still, even Jackson had to admit the significance of being named WNBA MVP yesterday after receiving 23 of 54 votes from a pool of media voters. “This is the best thing that any female basketball player could want in her career,” she said today after returning from Detroit, where WNBA commissioner Val Ackerman presented Jackson with the award prior to Game 2 of the WNBA Finals series between Detroit and Los Angeles. “It doesn’t happen to very many people, and the people it has have been a very prestigious group of players – Sheryl Swoopes, Lisa Leslie, Cynthia Cooper, Yolanda Griffith. It means a lot to me. It does. But if I could trade it for a championship, I would without a doubt.”

Though the public had to wait until yesterday to get confirmation that Jackson had won the award – after it was speculated that she was the winner by several local papers – Jackson herself found out the day after the Storm’s season ended. Since she didn’t expect to win – “I didn't believe that I would get it, because we didn't make the playoffs,” Jackson told Seattle-area media yesterday during a teleconference – Jackson was overcome with emotion when she got the news. “When I first did find out, I was with my mother and mom just started crying and I was so overwhelmed with her being so proud of me that I guess I got pretty upset over it too – not upset but a bit teary,” Jackson recalled. “I was just so happy that my mom was there and got to share it with me, because she’s been such a huge influence on my career. My dad was in the car, so we raced outside and told him. It was pretty special.”

For nearly three weeks, the league asked Jackson to keep her MVP win secret, leaving fans in the dark. Jackson was, however, able to tell her teammates and friends. “I celebrated it with all my close friends,” Jackson said. “As soon as I found out, obviously I called coach (Anne Donovan), and told her. Everyone, pretty much, in the Storm family knew. All my teammates knew, which was good.” As long as she got to tell those closest to her, keeping the secret was easy, Jackson said.

Jackson joins an elite group of WNBA MVP recipients. Cooper won the first two years of the league’s existence, and her Comets teammate Swoopes, who finished sixth in this year’s voting, is the only other two-time winner (2000 and 2002). The other two winners are two of Jackson’s top rivals in the Western Conference, Sacramento center Griffith and Jackson’s arch-rival, Sparks center Leslie. At 22, Jackson is easily the youngest winner in league history, as well as the first international winner. Griffith, Leslie and Swoopes (in 2000) were all 29 when they were named MVP.

Jackson and the newest addition to her trophy case.
Jesse D. Garrabant/ NBAE/Getty
By winning the award on a team that failed to make the playoffs, Jackson joined an even more exclusive club. All of the WNBA’s first six MVPs played for playoff teams, and just one NBA player – Kareem Abdul-Jabbar of the Los Angeles Lakers during the 1975-76 season – has won MVP without making the playoffs.

That every WNBA MVP had played for a playoffs team led to speculation that Jackson’s chances of winning the award might have been over when the Storm lost five straight games following an injury to center Kamila Vodichkova and were eliminated from playoff contention. Storm fans, however, never stopped believing, proudly wearing their “LJ for MVP” t-shirts, waving signs and chanting “M-V-P” as the Storm won its final two home games. That support was meaningful to Jackson. “It (the fan support) meant a lot to me,” she said. “I think the first time I heard them chant that, it was after one of the games, I think it was the L.A. game, I just ran into the locker room and started crying. I was so excited that people were yelling that out. I never expected them to do that for me. They were so supportive – and all the signs and everything. … It was awesome. It just felt really good to win it for them.”

In the end, the MVP voters – 12 members of the national media and three who cover each team – looked past the Storm’s lottery status, seeing instead that the team ended up tied for the fifth-best record in the WNBA and Jackson’s outstanding statistics this season. Jackson led the league in scoring, was fourth in rebounding and sixth in field-goal percentage, and ranked first across the board in the league’s efficiency rating system.

As Jackson well knows, basketball is a team game. But in 2003, there was no better female basketball player to have on a team than her.

Bird Joins Jackson on All-WNBA Team

It sounds like the setup to a bad joke: How do you finish second in the league in assists, lead all players at your position in scoring, and still manage to be overshadowed? Answer – play on the same team with Jackson. Sue Bird was overshadowed again yesterday, when she joined Jackson on the All-WNBA first team (Minnesota’s Katie Smith, Catchings and Leslie rounded out the first team). By making the first team in each of her first two years in the WNBA, Bird joined a group as exclusive and almost as prestigious as are MVPs. Cooper, Houston’s Tina Thompson, Utah’s Natalie Williams and Catchings are the only other four players to make first team in their first two seasons.