Injuries forced her glittering career to a halt but it won't stop Lauren Jackson contributing to the legacy of the game she loves.
Australia’s best ever basketballer inspired a generation of players on court and is now looking after their best interests off the court.
— FIBA (@FIBA) April 12, 2016
Jackson heads up the Australian Basketball Alliance (ABA), a new body formed late last year to represent the country’s top men and women players to ensure their welfare, rights and improvement of playing conditions.
Jackson didn’t finish high school but has unearthed a passion in the form of tertiary education. She’s completed diplomas in business management and real estate and is studying a Bachelor of Gender and Diversity at the University of Canberra.
“When I was 26 I had what they call the death fractures in my shin and I was told I needed a titanium rod put through it and that I’d be out for ages,’’ she said.
“I was studying but I thought 'Gee I have to get some sort of qualification', it just dawned on me there was no real structure in place (for athletes).
“Now I’m working with the ABA. I’m president of the women’s union and that’s one thing we’re really working on with Basketball Australia - to get some tertiary education for all the players. There’s a generation coming out now who never went to uni or TAFE, they just played full time.
“That in itself is a massive qualification but it can only take you so far when you don’t have any other background knowledge or skills. Jan Stirling (former Opals coach) in her High Performance role at BA will start to put things in place to help athletes transition into the community, the workforce and business world.”
Jackson hopes to combine her current studies with further roles and career opportunities.
“I’m really fortunate that I studied and have some sort of skill set, it’s just a matter of now how I use it,’’ she said.
“With my Bachelor of Gender and Diversity I've done so many law units I might get an undergrad in law. I don’t want to be a lawyer but in terms of advocacy work it might help me with advisory or board positions.”
Jackson retired on March 31.
Over the following two weeks she did close to 100 television, radio, print and blog interviews here and abroad “after every single one I broke down”, moved from Canberra home to Albury and ate ice cream in bed.
She quickly turned focus back to uni “I’m writing this legal thesis at the moment on police response to domestic violence in Australia and I don’t know how to pick up a book right now. It’s due in four weeks, next week I’ll have to start!”
Jackson underwent a knee surgery last month and has joined Channel 7’s commentary team for the Rio Olympics.
She likes peace and quiet and her own company and will get to spend more time at her haven, the home she designed and built in Albury.
“It (retirement) is becoming a reality but it’s not yet my reality. I am sad, it does hurt. It’s going to take a while and it’s a matter of getting through it now and moving on.’’
“When the girls go back into camp I think I’ll fall again, that team camaraderie is what I’m really going to miss and being an Opal. I loved everything about being an Opal, it was the highlight of my life.
“My identity has been so heavily wrapped up in basketball, especially the Opals, so any time something happens with them it’s going to affect me.”
Jackson was born to be an Opal.
Parents Gary and Maree played for Australia. Mum was back playing in a tournament two weeks after Lauren Elizabeth arrived on May 11, 1981. The 10-pound baby slept soundly behind the seats in the stadium so she wouldn’t get hit by a basketball.
She played under-10’s as a four year-old because she was so tall, grew up in stadiums and spent so much time around the game she caught chickenpox then passed it on to an entire under-18 boys team.
Jackson was selected in the Australian under-20 team as a 13-year-old and was picked on by teammates. At 16 she made her international debut for the Opals.
“Under-20s was a horrible experience, I’d always cry and call my mum from the payphone. I got into the (senior) Opals team thinking it was going to be exactly the same and it was completely the opposite, they didn’t baby me but every one of them took me under their wing and embraced me,’’ she said.
“They were the days when people would post letters and my teammates would write letters to me just to see how I was, to say it was great touring with you."
The years that followed shaped Jackson as she rose to the peak of her powers and dominated for every team she represented.
— Seattle Storm (@seattlestorm) April 14, 2016
“You’d get on court and train under Tom Maher (legendary Australian coach) and he would make you train your hardest every second and say the things I’d say to myself during training for the rest of my career like shoot it straight - things instilled in me now.
"Tom contributed to who I became because he filled this work ethic in me and that definitely came from him wanting the best out of me. He pushed me and would yell but that was what I needed to get me to where I got to.
“I have so much gratitude for Tom and all those girls who really supported me, they were just magic. I wanted to be like all of them.”
And ever since they’ve all wanted to be like Lauren.