TEAM: Lauren Jackson’s big gig – and in her case, big is the operative word in every way – confirms her status as the finest female basketballer Australia has produced, perhaps the best of either gender.
The only thing the towering blonde superstar hasn’t done in the sport is win an Olympic gold medal, and she could hardly have gone any closer to that than she has, with the Opals having been runners-up to the mighty Americans at the last three Games.
When Chef de Mission Nick Green announced that she would carry the flag at the Opening Ceremony in London, she made it abundantly clear that it is time that changed. Her astonishing record suggests she is more than capable of personally ensuring that the chances of that are good.
Jackson, 31, was born and bred to play hoops, with her parents, Gary and Maree, both having represented Australia. Their gifted daughter, Lauren Elizabeth, started playing it at four in Albury, where the family had a court in the backyard, and was told at six that she was destined to play for Australia.
The mail wasn’t wrong. She was picked in the Australian under 20 team at 14, awarded a scholarship to the Institute of Sport at 16, by which time she had already grown to 195cm, and then made her debut for the Opals at 17. The word prodigy doesn’t really do her justice.
In 2001 she was drafted into the hoops stratosphere, the American WNBA, by the Seattle Storm, for whom she still plays. There, she has played in two championships, won the competition Most Valuable Player award three times, the finals MVP once, topped the scoring charts three times and been selected in the all-star team seven times.
She has also played for the AIS and the Canberra Capitals, winning five championships, and for teams in Korea, Russia and Spain, racking up more awards and making herself wealthy.
She captained or co-captained the Opals in 2006 when they won both the world championships for the first time and the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne. She also captained the Olympic team in Beijing four years ago, all of which ticks one of Green’s boxes in coming to his decision. “She has great leadership qualities,” he said.
She boasts many other impressive qualities and personality traits that make her an outstanding choice as the face of the Games for Australia.
She is courageous and resilient, having overcome ankle, back, Achilles and hip injuries that might have stopped a lesser player.
She has a strongly-developed social conscience, devoting time and effort to domestic violence charities and working to help outback kids enjoy their sport.
“Loz,” as she is popularly known, is an interesting personality, not without a sharp tongue on the court but a part-time poet off it.
Her hero is her mother, who played in two world championships and in college basketball in the States, where her aggressive style earned her the nickname “the Assassin.” Lauren wears the same number 15 as Maree and has the word Mum tattooed on her hip.
She plans to stay in basketball as an administrator when her playing career ends, which, thankfully, isn’t about to happen any time soon.
She has unfinished business – and it is about to be addressed. As usual she will lead from the front, only this time it will be at the front of not just the other girls in the Opals but the entire Australian green and gold strike force.
Ron Reed in London