While Lauren Jackson was undoubtedly one of the greatest women’s basketball players in the history of the WNBA, she was also a walking contradiction. There is no doubt she was one of the best players in the game’s history. A former collegiate star at Stanford, she was the WNBA MVP in 2007. A 10-time all star, she was the WNBA scoring champion in 2003 and 2008, and was runner up in 2007.
Basketball is more than just a game. It unites players from all over the world, some of whom have dedicated their entire lives to this sport. From the first time you pick up a basketball to the last time you walk away from the court, you will find yourself immersed in the game, even if you’re just watching on television. Some players play for the entire career, while others only play one season. The first female player to play in the NBA was Lauren Jackson, who played for the Minnesota Lynx for 13 years, six of them as the team’s captain.
One of the biggest Australian sports events of the year, the AFL Grand Final, is one of the biggest sporting events of the year. Like all sporting events, it has its fair share of history and Aussies, particularly those in the AFL community, are extremely proud of their sporting heritage.
Lauren Jackson, a gangly, almost painfully timid Australian national team player, was set to compete in her maiden global championship.
It was 1998, and she was just 17 years old. And she had no clue how excellent she could be when she walked onto the court, surrounded by some of the greatest players in the world.
However, everyone in her immediate vicinity was aware of it. Jackson was Australia’s third-leading scorer in nine games as the Opals fought their way to a bronze medal, averaging 10.9 points in little under 12 minutes per game.
Michele Timms, an Opals icon who was a veteran on the squad, stated, “She was a very little child, still clutching her mother’s hand going down the street, she was that young.” “After that, she’d come on and score a point every minute.”
“She didn’t have the physical ability to play international basketball yet, and she didn’t have the stamina to do so. However, you had a feeling she was going to be something extraordinary.”
Jackson remains at the top of Australian basketball over a quarter-century later. She will be enshrined into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame as the country’s first female player this weekend.
Lauren Jackson was a four-time Olympian who won three silver medals for Australia. She raises the Australian flag after losing the gold medal game to the United States in 2004. Getty Images/AFP/FRANCOIS XAVIER MARIT
The 6-foot-5 forward dominated women’s basketball in the United States, Europe, Australia, and Asia for more than a decade. She helped Australia win three silver and one bronze medal at the Olympics, and she led the Opals to victory in the 2006 world championship. She was a three-time MVP, three-time scoring champion, and eight-time all-league pick in the WNBA. In addition, the two-time WNBA champion with the Seattle Storm tops ESPN.com’s list of the top 10 Australians who have ever played in the WNBA (full list is below).
“Lauren Jackson is the best men’s or women’s basketball player Australia has ever had,” Timms remarked. “She is our most valuable export.”
And it nearly didn’t happen at all.
Jackson, who was selected first overall in the 2001 WNBA draft by the Storm, had a strong first season despite a lingering shoulder ailment that required summer surgery. Jackson had spent the season attempting to adapt to a professional league many levels beyond anything she’d ever encountered while still a timid country girl from Albury barely out of her teens.
So when Jackson returned home, she made a decision: she would never return to Seattle.
“When I got back (to Australia), I had surgery and I remember thinking to myself, ‘I’m never coming back to America,’” she added. “It was just too much for me; I was in excruciating agony. Then came September 11th. I was a tiny rural boy who lived in this cocoon and thought the world was huge and frightening.”
However, as history has shown, Jackson did not just return to Seattle. She came back with a fury, and in 2003, she was named MVP. She helped the Storm win their first WNBA championship the following season. However, as the accolades piled up, so did the injuries, which plagued her throughout her career, cutting her time as the world’s best player short by not just months, but years.
Jackson never played another complete season after helping Seattle win the 2010 title. Despite the fact that her last game was a 2012 playoff defeat, Jackson didn’t retire until four years later, when another injury derailed her ambitions to participate for Australia in the 2016 Olympics.
Jackson continues to play mixed basketball in Albury throughout the week, but it has both advantages and disadvantages.
“It’s simply the basketball; I miss being on the basketball floor.” “I miss playing,” she expressed her regret. “I’m trying to get my mixed-competition fix here, but every week someone says stuff like, ‘You shouldn’t be playing in this league,’ and so on.”
“Give me a break, mate, I’ve had fifty operations, I’ve had two children, I’m 40 years old, and I can hardly walk!”
Sue Bird, left, and Lauren Jackson of the Seattle Storm hold their WNBA championship trophy during the 2004 victory parade. Jackson was also the WNBA’s leading scorer that year. Getty Images/Jeff Reinking/NBAE
Timms had no trouble recalling Jackson when she was at the top of her game. Timms spent five years in the WNBA, and her last season was the same as Jackson’s first with the Storm. The point guard for the Phoenix Mercury was astounded to see how far Jackson had progressed after winning the world title in Germany only three years before.
“All you hoped for was for your squad to be able to stand up to her,” Timms added. “I simply didn’t like playing Seattle because you knew what you were getting yourself into.”
“She not only had incredible abilities, but she also possessed a strong competitive edge…. She was a fierce opponent every time she walked onto the court.”
Jackson is thankful for everything, even the chances that forced her to go outside of her comfort zone.
“It was bigger than life when I first traveled over there (to Seattle).” “The professionalism of the league was beyond what any other women’s sport had,” she added, despite the fact that it paled in comparison to what the men had. “It was fantastic.” Playing abroad was a huge step for me, but it was one I needed to take in order to reach my full potential. But it was terrifying, and I was very shy.
“However, the WNBA compelled me.”
Jackson now understands that winning and losing were not her motivators.
“For me, it was the trip,” Jackson added. “It wasn’t so much about winning or losing since we might win a title one month and then place sixth at the global championships the next.” So the roller coaster is something I don’t miss at all.
“But it’s the trip that matters, as well as the colleagues and friends you make along the way, as well as the connections and tales you’ll have to share afterwards. Some of those teammates are still among my closest friends today. And the successful trips tended to turn into championships.”
Lauren Jackson, left, was a “force from the start” when she entered the WNBA, according to Tully Bevilaqua. They spent two seasons in Seattle together, including on the Storm’s 2004 championship squad. Getty Images/Jeff Reinking/NBAE
Many of their former teammates and friends are among the greatest Australians in WNBA history.
There have been 37 Australian players in the WNBA during the past 25 seasons, and no nation outside of the United States has had a greater influence on the league.
An Australian contingent, headed by Timms, Tully Bevilaqua, and Sandy Brondello, but also featuring Kristi Harrower, Michelle Brogan, Carla Boyd, and Rachael Sporn, had an early impression in the nascent league and set the bar for wunderkinds like Jackson and Penny Taylor to follow, from the start.
The Australian national team, said to Jackson, assisted them all in their preparation for WNBA competition.
“You had to battle for everything,” she said. “We had that grit attitude, and we really did bat over our average, and we had that dogged sense of purpose.” “When you combine it with a unique bunch of athletes who all showed up at the same moment, we had a fantastic run.”
So, who are the ten best Australian WNBA players of all time? When compiling this list, many variables were considered, including individual skill, team success, and longevity. Only 14 of the 37 Australians who have played in the WNBA have done so for at least five years, thus younger players like Stephanie Talbot and Ezi Magbegor don’t make the cut.
Naturalized athletes like Kelsey Griffin and Sami Whitcomb, who were born or raised in the United States but subsequently sought Australian citizenship, were also left out, while Leilani Mitchell, who has an Australian mother and dual citizenship, was included.
The top ten Australian women’s basketball players
Lauren Jackson, number one: There has never been a better player in Australia, male or female. The accolades and championships are remarkable enough, but Jackson stands out for her passion, tenacity, and reckless, single-minded commitment to not just winning but dominating. Even her gaudy stats understate how dangerous she was on the court: a monster scorer, rebounder, and defensive powerhouse with genuine 3-point shooting, and the league’s first true stretch forward-center. Despite missing the last two seasons of her WNBA career due to injuries, Jackson averaged 18.9 points and 7.7 rebounds per game, with a PER of 27.9. Her 73 win shares stand second all-time, behind only Tamika Catchings, over a decade after her last WNBA game. Tully Bevilaqua stated, “Lauren was the ultimate competitor.” “We were all better because of her. Lauren’s success wasn’t the only factor. It was all about the team’s performance.”
Penny Taylor, an Australian, is a three-time WNBA champion who helped Phoenix win titles in 2007, 2009, and 2014. Getty Images/Leon Bennett
2. Penny Taylor: The calmer yin to Jackson’s raging yang, Taylor was a key component of three WNBA championships with Phoenix, earning three All-Star Game nominations and two All-WNBA accolades in her 13-year career. Taylor was a key component in all three Mercury championships (2007, 2009, 2014), providing the ideal counterbalance for Diana Taurasi, Cappie Pondexter, and Brittney Griner. He was a smooth, agile 6-foot-1 forward with real range. Taylor’s WNBA career averaged 13.0 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 3.0 assists, and she left an indelible impact on Jackson, her Opals colleague. “I felt a lot better just knowing she was on the floor with me,” Jackson added. “Penny played with a fractured ankle, and she would do everything to win games. She was a fantastic athlete and a fantastic teammate.”
3. Michele Timms: TIMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM Timms’ influence on the WNBA is underappreciated, especially in comparison to her impact on Australian women’s basketball. In 1997, the 5-5 guard burst into the scene for Phoenix, rushing the ball up the court at a breakneck speed that enraged opponents and earned her a fan favorite. But here’s when it becomes truly impressive: She made her WNBA debut at the age of 32 and still averaged 12.1 points, 5.0 assists, 3.7 rebounds, and a fantastic 2.6 steals per game. The possibilities for a young Timmsy in the league are endless. “She was the mother of it all,” Jackson recalled. “She was where it all began for the rest of us.” Timms, on the other hand, epitomized hardness. “You knew Timmsy was coming for you as soon as you walked onto the floor. She’ll dive for each and every stray ball “Jackson said.
Michele Timms only played five seasons in the WNBA, but she immediately became a fan favorite and appeared in the 1999 All-Star Game. Getty Images/Robert Mora/NBAE
4. Tully Bevilaqua: A late bloomer in the WNBA, the Western Australian powerhouse turned her potential into a grittier and more prolific 14-season career. Bevilaqua’s early experiences with the Cleveland Rockers and Portland Fire didn’t always let her to demonstrate her exceptional abilities, but the 5-7 guard joined with Seattle in 2003. She was a crucial part of the 2004 championship squad, playing backup to Sue Bird and came up huge in the playoffs against the Minnesota Lynx. That triumph was followed by a prolonged second wind, with Bevilaqua proving to be a crucial component for the Indiana Fever for the following six seasons. Her characteristic quick defense was a headache to opposition backcourts, and she was one of only four WNBA players with 800 assists and 500 steals when she retired in 2012 after two years with the San Antonio Stars. “She wasn’t renowned for her offensive skill,” Jackson recalled, “but she was going to shoot it and knock it down if she got the ball at the end of the clock.”
5. Elizabeth Cambage: There may not be a more dominant player in the WNBA when she’s on. Cambage, who was dubbed the heir presumptive to Jackson’s crown as Australia’s greatest player, not only in the WNBA but also for Australia’s national team, has had a roller-coaster WNBA career. Even as she dealt with mental health and medical problems, contract conflicts, and other off-court controversies, she has shown some amazing, unbelievable flashes of skill. The 30-year-old still holds the WNBA single-game scoring record of 53 points against the New York Liberty in 2018, and she also won the league’s scoring title that season. The 6-8 Las Vegas Aces center, who was selected in 2011 but is just in her sixth WNBA season, sat out 2020 due to COVID-19 concerns and has been ruled out indefinitely after testing positive for the coronavirus. “She’s a huge, powerful lady who understands how to dominate the court,” Jackson added. “It’s fascinating to see her grow and progress. She’s a freakishly talented athlete.”
The Las Vegas Aces’ Liz Cambage is averaging 14.7 points per game and 8.4 rebounds per game this season. John Locher/Associated Press
6. Erin Phillips: How good of an athlete is Phillips? The 5-8 guard was ready to put her WNBA career on the line to play high-level Australian Rules footy. Phillips, who had already established herself as a legitimate WNBA player, played in the AFLW for the Adelaide Crows in 2016, despite not having medical insurance as part of her WNBA contract. Phillips, who played nine seasons in the WNBA, was a key member of two WNBA championship teams: Indiana in 2012 and Phoenix in 2014. During the 2014 championship run, she led the league in 3-point field goal percentage (44.9 percent). “She was simply one of those tough-as-nails defenders I like playing alongside,” Jackson said. “It’s been incredible to see her thrive in the AFLW; it’s obvious that’s what she was born to do; she’s an incredible athlete.”
7. Sandy Brondello: By the time she came in the WNBA, Brondello had already established herself as one of Australia’s all-time best shooting guards. In her second season with the Detroit Shock, she was named to the All-Star team after shooting 48.7% from beyond the arc. After that, the 5-7 veteran played five seasons in Miami and Seattle. Brondello, on the other hand, has made her mark in the WNBA as a coach, guiding the Mercury to a championship and being named WNBA Coach of the Year in 2014. “Shooter. Shooter with a high death rate. She has the ability to bring things to a halt. So upbeat, such an upbeat colleague… Simply said, he’s a fantastic human being “According to Jackson. “As a coach, what do you do? I would have liked to have been a part of her team…. You have to balance a lot of different personalities, and I believe she’s the right person for the job.”
Leilani Mitchell, a guard with the Washington Mystics, is in her 13th season in the WNBA. Getty Images/Josh Huston/NBAE
8. Leilani Mitchell: A plucky 5-5 point guard who has been a steady playmaker both as a starter and as a reserve over 13 seasons for New York, Phoenix, and the Washington Mystics, Mitchell is one of only 14 players in WNBA history with more than 500 3-pointers and the only player in league history to win the Most Improved Player award twice. Mitchell, who has dual citizenship in Australia and the United States, is willing to put her body on the line and is still a very successful quarterback who can stretch opposing defenses at the age of 36. “She simply goes about her business and gets the job done, and I believe her teams benefit from that kind of quiet leadership,” Jackson said.
9. Jenna O’Hea: The current Australian Opals captain had a successful six-year career in the WNBA, where she played a variety of positions for the Los Angeles Sparks and subsequently the Seattle Storm. O’Hea’s versatility was constantly on display, as she could smash the open look, offer playmaking from the frontcourt, and was an underappreciated defender, particularly after joining the Storm. O’Hea, a career 41.1 percent shooter from outside the arc, never received the same acclaim in the WNBA as her Australian counterparts, but Jackson compared her to Penny Taylor and praised her leadership. “She’s a shooter,” Jackson said. “She can knock down shots and go to the basket.” “She’s a major player, as well as a fantastic leader and all-around performer.”
10. Rebecca Allen: A steady rise to the top, Allen has recovered from a knee injury early in her WNBA career to be a major contributor off the bench for New York this season. Allen’s flexibility, like O’Hea’s, makes her a terrific match for the Liberty. Allen, who can fire it up from downtown, has stepped it up this WNBA season, scoring a career-high 9.4 points per game after missing the 2020 bubble season due to the COVID-19 epidemic. Allen, a 28-year-old prodigy who will represent Australia in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, is still developing. “You can’t stop her when she’s on the move,” Jackson added. “She’s just a fantastic attacking weapon. She has a great sense of the ball on defense.”
Kristi Harrower, Steph Talbot, Sami Whitcomb, Belinda Snell, Alanna Smith, and Ezi Magbegor received honorable mention.
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