How Basketball Legend Lauren Jackson Made Her Comeback

Six years after retiring, the Opals’ star rewrote her ending with one final medal for Australia.

By the time Lauren Jackson retired due to injury in 2016 she was considered the greatest basketballer Australia had ever produced. She’s a four-time Olympic medallist, a three-time WNBA MVP and the only Australian player inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.

But, as it turned out, she wasn’t done. Earlier this year, Lauren, 41, signed with the semi-pro NBL1 Albury Wodonga Bandits, and in August she was named in the Opals squad for the FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup – a full 12 years after her last appearance in the competition.

Now, the star has claimed the career fairytale ending she deserves. On Friday, the Opals defeated Canada in Sydney to win the bronze medal at the FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup.

Here, the iconic athlete shares how she grappled with her demons to pull off an unbelievable comeback.

I never thought I’d represent Australia again

“The first game we played against Canada [at the Opals training camp in New York in July], I got really emotional. I started thinking about my kids [Harry, five, and Lenny, three] and the sacrifices that they’re making for me. Just having to process everything each day as it comes – it’s been a completely different journey to the one that I took years ago as a pro athlete.” 

How Basketball Legend Lauren Jackson Made Her Comeback
Image credit: Supplied.

I’m about taking it day by day

“The longer I can keep training and see where it takes me, the greater opportunity I have to get my body back and feel good about myself. In the beginning it was just about getting fit again and trying to lose some weight after I had my kids. I couldn’t look too far ahead because… I wasn’t emotionally ready to think that I could represent Australia again, even though people were talking about it.”

I’m super focused on getting my body strong and keeping it healthy 

“Right from day dot, it was just about strength work. I did full-on weight training and maybe one conditioning session a week to get my strength up. And then at that six-week period, I started shooting some hoops and getting out on the court and seeing how that felt. My body didn’t flare up, so I was able to keep going with it. If I hadn’t done that strength training and given myself that base, there’s no way I would be here [in the Opals] right now.”

Listen to Lauren Jackson on our podcast Uninterrupted by Women’s Health Australia on Apple and Spotify. Post continues below.

I also went on a trial for medicinal cannabis 

“And honestly, I felt so much better. It’s not so much [about] stopping pain, it’s more the recovery. The anti-inflammatory properties stopped my knee from flaring up the way that it had been and it gave me the opportunity to be consistent in the gym.”

At the end of my career, I was completely broken 

“As an athlete, I got into a cycle of painkillers to deal with pain [from injuries], and I was on a lot of really harsh medications. When I retired and then had my kids, I made a choice that I wasn’t ever going to go back down that road. There was a lot of work I had to do emotionally to get back to a point where I felt really strong and worthy as a human being.” 

Having kids has changed my life perspective

“It’s knowing that I have to be the best version of myself for those children. Throughout my career, I always felt like I was looking for something more. I felt like there was always a hole in my stomach. The minute I saw my first son, I was like, ‘It’s gone. It’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with me’.”

I had professional help as well, and I took antidepressants for a period 

“But I think when I made an effort to start studying again, go back to university, find different passions outside of basketball, I felt a lot better. After I retired, it was getting a job and taking every opportunity that came my way [that helped].”

We’re all a work in progress 

“And it’s a battle – life is hard. I think as long as you are doing what you can to be the best version of yourself, that’s all you can ask. So that’s all I’m really doing at the moment… That’s all the energy I have right now.”

RELATED: Basketball Star Ezi Magbegor On Managing Her Game Day Headspace

Having the World Cup in Australia is magic 

“In ’94, what it did for the next generation of basketballers was enormous. The visibility, being able to see the superstars in action, it inspired my generation.”

I had a great career in the US but representing Australia has always been number one

“[As career highlights go] Sydney 2000 was so special. London was a really special Olympics for me as well. But a World Cup gold [Lauren led the Opals to victory in 2006] is right up there, for sure!”

Main image credit: @aus_opals

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