Former Seattle star Lauren Jackson announces retirement
Injuries finally succeeded in doing what many of Lauren Jackson's opponents couldn't do: prevent her from exceling on the basketball court.
The 34-year-old Australian retired Thursday, ending an illustrious career that saw her star for the WNBA's Seattle Storm and lead Australia to four Olympic medals.
A fifth Olympics could have been the Rio Games in August, but that possibility ended with her announcement on the same court she began playing at Canberra's Australian Institute of Sport in 1997, and where her Olympic teammates were training.
''To say goodbye to my love, what was my life, my identity, this hurts,'' Jackson said. ''A few tears have been shed and I feel kind of empty right now.''
Jackson, who said she was uncertain about her future but ruled out a coaching job, was the WNBA's most valuable player three times, the last in 2010.
The 1.96-meter (6 foot, 5-inch) Jackson spent her entire WNBA career with Seattle, helping lead the Storm to titles in 2004 and 2010. But she hadn't played a full season for the Storm since 2010 - just 13 games in 2011 and nine games in 2012 - due to numerous surgeries on her right knee and other ailments including a left Achilles tendon injury.
She had been named on Australia's Opals extended squad for Rio, but recent fitness testing and medical advice convinced her she should not continue playing.
''It really is so surreal retiring here where it all began 19 years ago,'' Jackson said. ''Today I'm announcing my retirement from the love of my life, basketball. Two years ago I hurt my knee playing in China ... my knee ended up degenerating really, really fast, I got arthritis pretty quickly and since then I've had multiple surgeries.''
Jackson has spent more time off the court than on for most of the past five or six years - either in Seattle, with the Canberra WNBL team or stints with club teams in Spain and China. She also played in South Korea and four years part-time with Moscow Spartak, winning two EuroLeague titles with the Russian team.
She came close to retiring in January after being hospitalized with a knee infection following surgery for a torn anterior cruciate ligament, when she said she'd need an ''absolute miracle'' if she was going to play in Rio. She was also released from her WNBL contract with the Canberra Capitals, having played just six games in five years.
Jackson won Olympic silver medals in 2000, 2004 and 2008, losing the final each time to the United States. She also earned bronze at London in 2012, when she was Australia's flag bearer at the opening ceremony. She began her Opals career when she was 16.
''When I first saw Lauren and what she could do on the basketball court, I knew she was someone special,'' said former Australia head coach Jan Stirling. ''Throughout all of her accomplishments she has remained humble ...''
Drafted by Seattle first overall in 2001, Jackson ranks sixth all-time in the WNBA in points scored (6,007), eighth in rebounding (2,447) and third in blocks (586). She also leads the Storm in all three categories, with her best game for Seattle coming in a then-WNBA single-game scoring a record 47 points on July 24, 2007 at Washington.
''I believe Lauren is the most dominant player the WNBA has ever seen,'' Seattle coach Jenny Boucek said. ''I was fortunate to be around her for many years and every day we were in awe of something she would do on the court. We are grateful for her incredible impact on the franchise, the city of Seattle and the game.''
Jackson's Seattle teammate Sue Bird said the Australian's retirement ''gives all of us a chance to reflect on what an amazing career she had.''
''She'll always be the best player this franchise has ever seen and one of the best teammates I've ever had,'' Bird said.
AP Basketball Writer Doug Feinberg contributed to this story from New York.