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Originally published July 12, 2011 at 9:54 PM | Page modified July 12, 2011 at 11:17 PM

Steve Kelley

Storm star Lauren Jackson's rehab already far ahead of schedule

Storm coach Brian Agler says Lauren Jackson could return from hip surgery before end of season.

Seattle Times staff columnist

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Awkwardly navigating on a pair of metallic red crutches, Seattle Storm center Lauren Jackson hobbled onto the floor, under the KeyArena spotlight during Tuesday afternoon's player introductions.

And watching her stand uncomfortably during the national anthem before her team's 79-71 win over Washington, I couldn't help thinking how unfair sports can be.

For the third time in the past four years Jackson is out of the lineup, after suffering a torn labrum and undergoing surgery June 30 on her left hip.

It doesn't seem right for someone this gifted to be hurt as often as Jackson is. It doesn't seem fair that the game she loves so much punishes her so much.

In 2009 Jackson was diagnosed with two stress fractures in her back. The season before that she suffered an ankle injury that needed surgery after the Beijing Olympics.

In her 11 WNBA seasons, Jackson has had stress fractures in her left shin. She has two nodules on that shin that are reminders of the pain of those injuries. She's had right knee issues and left foot problems.

In January, she injured her Achilles playing in Australia. Then came the tumble in Tulsa last month and the familiar pain that told Jackson she was going to need another surgery and go through another painful rehabilitation.

"I knew right away that I had torn something," Jackson said, sitting in her locker cubicle after Tuesday's win. "It was one of those things where I was pretty upset. I still am, but now I still expect to be part of this team this year."

Four hours after her surgery, Jackson was riding an exercise bike. She has been working out twice a day as part of her rehab. She gets to ditch the annoying crutches Thursday.

"I think, with her injuries, she kind of goes through phases emotionally," said All-Star point guard Sue Bird, a teammate of Jackson's for a decade. "There's a beginning phase where she's very affected by it. She hates not being able to play. But every time she gets injured she also proves that she can bounce back.

"There's something to be said for that. Sure, she gets kind of down about her injuries at first. I mean, it's tough and rehab's hard. But she gets to the point where she sees the light at the end of the tunnel, and from there she really focuses on getting back on the court."

Originally the most optimistic prognosis was that Jackson might return for the playoffs. (The Storm is 4-2 in her absence.) But her recovery is so far ahead of schedule that Seattle coach Brian Agler said it would not shock him if she returned late in the regular season.

"She's a mentally and physically tough person," Agler said. "She has battled back from a lot of injuries, and it's a credit to her. She loves the game of basketball, but it's taken a toll the last few years with just some strange occurrences."

Jackson is the best, most versatile center in the history of women's basketball. Already she has won three league MVP awards and, at 30, she should be entering the prime of her career.

"It is kind of like a love story," Jackson said about her life in basketball. "There's nothing more heartbreaking than having to go through injuries like this and wanting to be out there. I can't even really explain how I feel right now. But I can't look at this negatively.

"I love the sport and I wouldn't be doing this if I didn't love it. Trust me. I wouldn't go through all of this pain. But I've loved it my entire life, and now I just have to get back to it."

Like all love stories Jackson's is complicated. The truth is, for all the pain the game has caused, it also has given her a life that is being fully realized.

"The sport has given me so much, as far as self-esteem is concerned," she said. "I was 6-foot-5 as a 16-year-old, and if it wasn't for basketball I don't know where I would be. And through basketball, I've been able to find myself as an adult and a woman. I feel like I've grown up in the sport, and I feel like I've given my life to it.

"Look, I've gone through a lot of injuries in my time and I've always come out bigger and better and stronger for it. I fully expect that will be the case this time as well. I don't feel like I can cry about the injury. It's done."

Lauren Jackson will be back, sooner rather than later. Love hurts. But love also heals.

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

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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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