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Originally published Friday, June 5, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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Steve Kelley

Why Lauren Jackson came back to Seattle

Lauren Jackson, 28, has grown up in Seattle. Become self-confident here. Grown into stardom here. She jokes that she's even changed her hair color here.

Seattle Times staff columnist

A blizzard of confetti swirled, drifting from the rafters of KeyArena, dancing to the sold out house's thunderous cheers.

The Seattle Storm had won the 2004 WNBA championship, the first Seattle professional sports title since the 1979 Sonics. And Lauren Jackson and her Australian countrywoman and Storm teammate Tully Bevilaqua stood on the scorers table, looking into that crowd and drinking in all of those first sights and sounds of their first championship.

Ask Jackson for the favorite memory of her first eight seasons in Seattle and she won't talk about the two league MVP awards she has won. She won't mention the 47 points she once scored against Washington, or the 17 double-doubles she collected in 2007.

She'll talk about this shared championship moment, when her adopted hometown and her closest teammate were wrapped in the wondrous warmth of accomplishment. She'll remember holding Bevilaqua's hand and hearing her teammate yell through the din, "We're the first Australian women to win a WNBA championship."

"That's my all-time favorite moment here," Jackson said Thursday, in the swelter of the Furtado Center, after the Storm's late-afternoon practice.

Jackson came to Seattle in 2001, as a young, homesick 20-year-old, with the expectations of a fledgling franchise on her broad shoulders. That was the year that stars were being born all over Seattle.

It was the same year Ichiro came to the Mariners and Matt Hasselbeck joined the Seahawks.

Over these past eight seasons, Jackson has proved to be their equal, one of the most decorated and accomplished professional athletes ever to come to town.

Jackson, 28, has grown up in Seattle. Become self-confident here. Grown into stardom here. She jokes that she's even changed her hair color here.

"Looking back on it, it was hard for me coming over here. I was so afraid when I came over," said Jackson. "I didn't know what to expect. I couldn't really open up to people too much.

"But I think coming to Seattle made me the player and the person I am today. I think a lot of me growing up has to do with me being here and being away from home. I was very fortunate to be drafted here I know that."

Jackson, who was a free agent this winter, chose to return to the Storm, rather than accept an offer from the Phoenix Mercury. She returned because she realized this was as close to a second home as she would ever find.

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"I made the right decision," said Jackson, who begins her ninth year Saturday night when the Storm starts its 10th anniversary season.

She had surgery on her right ankle after last summer's Beijing Olympics and was unavailable for the WNBA playoffs. But now she is relatively pain free and running like a kid again.

"I can move better," she said. "I feel quicker. It's helped me with my training. Last year I wasn't able to train hard. My ankle was bad and if I hadn't had the surgery I wouldn't be here now. I hope I never have to go through that again, all of the injections. I don't think I would ever put myself through that again.

"I think if I ever see another needle getting pulled out, I'll just walk away. I would go through another surgery if I had to, but I wouldn't let it get to the point where it was that bad again. When you get a little older, you listen to your body a little more."

Her body is allowing her to love the game again. And that deep, sustaining love really is what basketball is about for Jackson. It's the game her mother, Maree, played internationally and Jackson said, from the first days she could talk, she was telling people she would play basketball and play for Australia, just like her mom.

"I love being on the court and being competitive and feeling good," she said. "It's just something I've done my whole life and I don't know who I'd be without it. It's taken me so many places. I don't know where else I would have gone. I didn't go to school. I didn't have any other goals. It was all basketball.

"It's who I am and it's been who I am all my life. And I'll be playing as long as I possibly can. I'm sure I'll be an old woman, coming off the bench, still playing for the Storm."

And waiting for the next confetti blizzard.

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or skelley@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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About Steve Kelley

Steve Kelley covers all sports, putting his spin on matters involving both the home team and the nation.
skelley@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2176

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