Regardless matter the outcome of the FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup 2022, Lauren Jackson would forever be remembered as a basketball great.
Even still, it’s not shocking that a great like Jackson would have a World Cup conclusion that reads like a Hollywood screenplay.
You couldn’t believe it until you saw it for yourself.
This is the first official goodbye.
After a remarkable career with the Australia Opals, Lauren Jackson was scheduled to retire on March 31, 2016. Jackson had hoped to participate in the Rio Olympics, which would have been her fifth.
According to the Australia Associated Press, Jackson commented, “It truly seems so odd retiring here where it all started 19 years ago.” “I’m declaring my retirement from basketball today.
By that time, Jackson had already established himself as a legend in the sport across all levels, from amateur to professional teams throughout the globe. She became the youngest player ever to be nominated to a senior national team at the age of 16, and the side went on to win bronze at the 1998 World Cup. Almost wherever she played, she was named the most valuable player and she earned accolades and titles.
However, by the middle of the 2010s, she was unable to perform at her peak due to a series of injuries.
Many sportsmen, even those as talented as Jackson, do not get the chance to retire from their sport with the dignity they deserve. For Jackson, who announced her retirement from international basketball in 2016, this seemed to be the case.
“I attempted to suit up a couple of times,” Jackson recounted, as quoted by The New York Times. “but I simply couldn’t move because I was in so much agony.”
She emphasized that “it was not on my terms.”
So abruptly, she had to say goodbye.
Having to say farewell to the person who became my life and my own sense of self is a painful experience.
“Now that I’ve shed some tears, I feel hollow inside, truly hollow. But I suppose I’m prepared and even eager for whatever comes next.”
Setting the stage for a comeback
Six years into the future, Jackson likely had no idea that one of the chapters of her life would include a comeback to basketball. Nonetheless, there she was in early February, announcing her comeback to the NBL1 with the Albury Wodonga Bandits, her local club.
She told ABC news, “My career didn’t finish the way that would have been wonderful.
“Basketball had a significant emotional toll on me, but today I’m a completely different person.”
“I’m in fine shape right now. I’ve got plenty of time to mend and get in shape.”
Taking the field for the Opals in the World Cup felt like a long shot even back then. She had a scare when she tore her complete plantar fasciitis just before the start of the NBL1 season, but things worked out and she was named to the Opals team that would compete in the Women’s World Cup in early August.
Before being informed by Sandy, “I don’t believe there was ever a point when I was like, ‘I’m going to make the World Cup,'” Jackson had stated.
It was just as psychologically challenging for Jackson to bring herself back to the point where she could play at the international basketball level as it had been physically.
In Jackson’s words, the World Cup was “a head game” after it was all over. “I remember I kind of mentioned to everyone that it would have had to have been the same training that I did regardless of whether I was just playing for Albury or Australia, because my body was in such a horrible condition that I had to become as strong as I could possibly get to even play for Albury,” he added.
“There were certain difficulties, such as when I ruptured my plantar fasciitis early on and had to wait a long time before I could play again. Consequences of the violence were limited to the kind of severe and long-lasting injuries we’re talking about here. It felt like going back in time to the moment my career ended for real.”
“There were occasions when I was really emotional once I began performing at a high level again. Things that would make me weep so fast because my life has been such a roller coaster of emotions.”
That woman has returned
On September 22, 2022, she finally suited up for her long-awaited debut for the Opals, which would be their first match against France in almost a decade.
When her name was called during the pre-game lineup announcement, the audience yelled as loud as they could. As soon as she entered the game in the first quarter, they began roaring anew. They were on the verge of a riot when she took and missed her first shot, but they didn’t have to wait long to start rejoicing since she quickly surpassed the 600-point mark for her Women’s World Cup career with a three-pointer.
Jackson probably could have stopped there and done nothing else for the rest of the whole World Cup and it would have been considered a victory, just for being able to come back on the court and compete with the greatest players in the world.
But that’s not the end of this tale.
But not quite yet.
The last act
Perhaps Pau Gasol had inside information. Perhaps as the Ambassador of the Women’s World Cup and a basketball star, he could sense that a miracle tale was about to be recounted.
“Like every other tournament, this one has its share of interesting anecdotes if you look hard enough. There are always a few really remarkable and motivating tales that get published, “When asked about the Semifinals, Gasol stated.
“Real life experiences, accounts of actual people, descriptions of the kinds of concessions that must be made. The devotion and enthusiasm that female players bring to the game. It seems to me that there is a lot to enjoy for casual basketball fans who aren’t familiar with women’s basketball.”
He said he would have liked to have heard more about Jackson’s recovery from her. While he was courtside watching Australia and Canada play in the Third-Place Game, she gave him a happy ending straight out of a fairy tale.
Jackson’s teammate Sami Whitcomb said to ABC Sport after the game, “You can’t write it any better.”
There aren’t many ways to write a better conclusion to Australia’s “Rose Gold” run, but you could try.
Jackson, at the ripe old age of 41, was participating in her sixth World Cup. Before making her return, she had been out of the workforce for nearly six years. Before the third-place game, she had never played more than 14 minutes in a game and had only scored in double digits once.
And yet, here she was, putting in nearly 20 minutes of her “Last Dance” and garnering the majority of the points that helped Australia win the gold.
Three minutes and change remained in the game when Jackson was sent the ball on the left low post. Currently, she is focusing on Natalie Achonwa of Canada.
Dribble. Dribble. Turn-around. Transitional nod.
During this precise play, as Jackson was scoring her 27th and 28th points of the game, the message “Hoops is never done” appeared on the LED boards surrounding the court.
It’s the kind of scene that might have been plucked from a movie because it’s so ideal.
After the game, Canadian Kia Nurse observed, “When good players start going, they get rolling.” “The situation seems hopeless, and it’s clear that she has a wealth of expertise. There’s a good reason why she’s considered the greatest player in the history of basketball in Australia. Considered to be among the greatest in the world.”
“You know how some tournaments finish with a happy conclusion, right? The resolution to this one resembled something out of a fairy tale, but we made it through. There was an air of “come on!” about it.”
Right after that, on the next offensive possession, Jackson was fouled and made both of his free throws to give him 30 points. When she was taken out of the game for the final time in Sydney, the audience chanted “MVP” and stood to give her a standing ovation. Within minutes, Jackson and the Opals had won bronze at home in front of their supporters.
If this were a movie, the scene would now zoom out and fade to black as the closing titles rolled in.
The only difference is that we saw this in real life.
Postgame, Jackson commented, “Honestly, I wasn’t even thinking” about her 30-point performance.
“From the very first seconds of the match, I was overcome with passion and determined to come out on top. Mostly, I really wanted to win for Sandy and help get the squad back on the podium. All I could think about was that; I didn’t even know I had that many points till the very end.”
“She’s a really modest celebrity, if you ask me.” During the news conference, Australia’s head coach Sandy Brondello also made some remarks. “I mean, really, who gets 30 points? Actually, I can’t recall ever having done so in an international contest.”
The connection between Brondello and Jackson during this World Cup was that of coach and player, but their friendship spans over two decades, dating back to their time as teammates with the Opals and later, the Seattle Storm.
According to ESPN, Brondello remarked of Lauren before the World Cup, “Lauren is my buddy.” “I remember helping her out when she was only a teenager during the 1998 World Cup, and now, all these years later, I’m coaching her team. We respect each other much, but it isn’t strange for me; after all, this is my line of work and has been for the last eighteen and a half years, since since I retired.”
Brondello made sure that Jackson’s inclusion on this squad wasn’t influenced by her standing as a legend or friend, but rather by her present physical condition and what she could contribute to the team. That’s why I enjoyed the end outcome so much more.
The effort she put in to return to playing at this level is “unheard of,” as Brondello put it. “I was motivated and so was the rest of the squad because of her. We weren’t sure how her body would hold up, and she had some rigorous exercise routines.”
“The fact that this is a worldwide competition made it impossible to just hand her [the roster slot]. Having her as an opponent made it impossible for me to do so, no matter how much I may have wanted to. She was chosen based on her qualifications, so I’m certain that I made the proper call.”
“I am really happy for her and pleased to call her a friend after what she has accomplished. Not only did I get to teach Lauren, but I also got to play alongside her, and I can say without a doubt that no athlete has ever crossed my path who was as psychologically tough as she was. We were both sobbing before the game, so I know she’s a softie off the court, but for me, it’s her tenacity that makes her a great player.”
“There was no way to alter her legacy. She’s been such a fantastic leader for this squad, and it’s clear that the ladies look up to her. I couldn’t have written a nicer ending for her.”
To quote you: “I’m just glad we earned the bronze and she can go out on her terms now.”
According to The New York Times, after losing to France in the first game of the World Cup, Jackson declared, “I don’t believe in fairy tales.” “For some reason, I simply can’t. If it stops today or tomorrow, it doesn’t matter to me. This has been the most incredible experience of my life.”
From the viewpoint of her whole career or just this one year of return, that journey has been incredible. Even if Jackson doesn’t believe in fables, this is about as fantastical as real life gets.
At the press conference, Jackson remarked, “This trip, I’ve said it before to all of you, has simply been the most humbling but fantastic ten months of my life.” “After the game, I told Sandy, “Simply thank you for picking me; it’s given me the chance to just play the sport I love in front of Australia again, and to go farewell this way is just fantastic. Honestly, I never would have thought of it.”
“The thought of this happening never ever crossed my mind. Two months ago, I really doubted that she would choose me “Jackson stated to her head coach and close friend who was sitting next to her on the bench.
‘I did not believe you were going to pick me,’ she emphasized to Brondello.
“I just cannot fathom it; words fail me as I try to express my current state of mind. This is the realization of a lifelong wish. It’s over, and there’s no need to feel sad about it. Simply said, it’s remarkable. It has been the greatest adventure of my life. It’s fantastic that we’re doing it here; the response from the community has been incredible.”
Could this be your last ride?
While sitting at the press conference, Jackson did display some indications of physical exhaustion after playing the most minutes and attempting the most field goals in a game in the eighth and final game of the tournament. She seemed to have been overcome with emotion, with tears welling in her eyes at times, but otherwise at ease.
Jackson may finally end her life the way she wants to, just as Brondello predicted.
After the competition, Jackson expressed her excitement at returning to her regular work and launching She Hoops. “Let me tell you, it is a great privilege to don the green and gold. To this day, there has never been anything more crucial to my professional success. It’s been an honor to help put Team USA back on top of the podium with the amazing people of Australia.”
“Even though I’m in pain, I’m looking forward to getting back to work. Right now, my body aches in a way that it doesn’t hurt in the office “she said, eliciting chuckles from the crowd.
When asked what she had planned for 2024, and if she may give the Olympics another go as Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi did for Team USA at the Tokyo Games, Jackson answered emphatically and without hesitation.
She smiled and said, “No.”
She said, alluding to Bird and Taurasi, “They didn’t have two children who depend on them.” “There are just infants in my family. In order for me to be here, they gave up a lot. This separation has been quite taxing on both of us over the last two months.”
They have to have mommy and I have to have my kids, therefore I’m done.