Some might say Ken Griffey Jr., with his 630 home runs, 13 All-Star appearances and inimitable flair.
Some might say Russell Wilson, with his eight Pro Bowls, one Super Bowl ring and year-to-year consistency.
A few might throw Randy Johnson’s name in there, or maybe Walter Jones or Ichiro. But if you want my vote for the most dominant pro athlete Seattle has seen? It goes to Lauren Jackson.
The former Storm center on Tuesday was nominated for a spot in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, and the vote should be a mere formality. LJ might not have had the longevity of a Sue Bird or Diana Taurasi, but it’s possible nobody in the WNBA was better at their peak.
Yes, there were the two championships, three regular-season MVP awards and two scoring titles. But a closer look at the numbers suggests she wasn’t just better than her peers — but better than her predecessors and successors, too.
The first measurement is Player Efficiency Rating. It’s not a perfect statistic, but it’s usually pretty telling of a player’s overall value. It takes into account analytics such as true shooting percentage, rebounding rate and usage. Not only did Jackson lead the WNBA in PER in six seasons, but she had the highest PER in history, in 2007, the second-highest in 2006, and the fifth-highest in 2003.
The next stat is win shares. This is similar to baseball’s Wins Above Replacement (WAR), which attempts to encapsulate a player’s overall value. Basically — how many wins are you responsible for as an individual.
For Jackson — a whoooole lot.
Jackson led the WNBA in win shares seven times. In other words, it’s very possible she won fewer than half of the league MVPs she deserved. Additionally, if win shares is the best indication of a player’s value, Jackson had six of the best 22 seasons in league history.
These aren’t things you can say about Griffey or Wilson or Ichiro, sublime as some of their seasons have been. These are more the things you say about Michael Jordan, Willie Mays or Peyton Manning.
If there’s a statue built outside of Climate Pledge Arena to honor a Storm player, it likely would be one of Bird. But nobody in that organization — or Seattle, for that matter — dominated like Jackson (although Breanna Stewart may have something to say about that when she hangs ’em up.)
Of course, numbers alone don’t make one a legend. It’s results, too. Until 2004, Seattle hadn’t won a pro sports championship since the Sonics took the NBA title in 1979. Then the Jackson-led Storm beat the Connecticut Sun to end that drought. It won another title six years later, with LJ taking Finals MVP honors.
Knee and hip issues prevented Jackson from playing as long as she would have liked. After averaging 20.5 points and 8.3 rebounds in 2010, when she won league MVP, she took the court just 13 times in 2011, when she averaged 12.2 points. The next year, at 31 years old, she averaged a career-low 10.2 points while playing in just nine games.
Perhaps Jackson’s WNBA resume would have been even shinier if she was healthy for more than 10 seasons. But what she did from 2001-2010 is some of the finest work pro sports have seen. She finished her career averaging 18.9 points and 7.7 rebounds and has the second-most win shares ever. Only Tamika Catchings, who played three more seasons, has more.
When Jackson had her jersey retired in 2016, Bird said LJ and Taurasi were the two best to ever play the game. High praise, and not praise that’s easy to dispute.
Plenty of dominant athletes have come through this town. None dominated their sport quite like Jackson.