SEATTLE – Lauren Jackson has grown up.
The most decorated athlete in the history of Seattle sports explained as much after pulling off a sweatshirt and falling into a chair without so much as a smile while fulfilling her obligation last week at the Seattle Storm’s Media Day.
A few days after her 30th birthday, and on the verge of beginning her 11th season with Seattle’s WNBA team, Jackson was finally mature enough to come clean with a fact she’s been hiding for most of her life.
She’s actually 6-foot-6 – not 6-5, as has been reported on her bio since Jackson started playing international, Olympic and professional basketball 13 years ago.
“I didn’t want to be 6-6. I thought I was freakishly tall enough,” she said at Media Day last Friday. “I’m definitely 6-foot-6, and I have been since I was 17 years old.”
So why come clean now?
“I think it’s because I’m 30 years old,” said Jackson, who celebrated her milestone birthday on May 11, “and I don’t give a (rip).”
The Australian spitfire with the oft-changing hair color likes to present herself as a bit of a chameleon, but the truth is she’s become one of the few mainstays in Seattle sports. And yet superstardom in these parts has eluded Jackson, who somehow remains overshadowed in a rather lean sports landscape.
In a town that can count its current sports stars on one hand, Jackson is the proverbial underrated player who rarely gets noticed.
Look at her athletic resume and Jackson outshines anyone this town has ever seen. She is a three-time league MVP, matching the combined total of the Seahawks, Mariners and Sonics in their combined 100-plus years of existence.
She has led her team to two league championships, or twice the total of the city’s three most high-profile professional teams. She is a seven-time all-star, a three-time Olympian and a gold medalist in the 2006 World Championships.
And yet Jackson said the only reason she really gets noticed when walking the streets of Seattle is because she’s 6-5 … er, 6-6.
“I think my height definitely has something to do with it,” she said. “I think if I was (5-9 teammate Sue Bird’s) height, people probably wouldn’t recognize me as much.”
While Jackson is as big as it gets in WNBA circles, she’s still not on par with local legends Ichiro Suzuki, Steve Largent and Gary Payton – even though she’s significantly more accomplished than any of them.
Jackson doesn’t exactly welcome the spotlight. She prefers to keep a low profile.
She calls Seattle home for only about one-third of the year, spending the rest of her time playing in Europe or in her homeland of Australia. She loves the city but says she spends a lot of her time indoors. Her main passion these days is the ongoing pursuit of a correspondence degree in social work, which she plans to put toward a post-retirement career in helping victims of domestic violence.
“To be honest, I don’t really do much,” said Jackson, who was known to frequent the Kangaroo and Kiwi Pub on Aurora Avenue in North Seattle when she was a 20-something. “I study, and I go to the grocery store. The people there know me, obviously. It’s like a little home. I guess I’ve been here so long that people have gotten used to me being out and about.”
Jackson is nowhere near as popular in Seattle as she is in her homeland.
“If Lauren goes anywhere on the street in Australia, she’d be recognized,” said Storm teammate Belinda Snell, a fellow Aussie. “… In women’s sports, she would be the highest-profile person in Australia, definitely.”
Since she’s turned 30, Jackson jokingly claims to have undergone a sort of midlife crisis. But in the world of team sports, she has accomplished an incredible amount before hitting that milestone age.
Although not always at the top of the superstar pecking order, Jackson has grown up before Seattle’s eyes. And she doesn’t seem to be slowing down.
“Not at all,” the Storm’s Snell said. “She’s just reaching her prime.”