From her home halfway across the world, Lauren Jackson put the finishing touches on a groundbreaking 20-year basketball career that began in Australia and ended in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
On Saturday night, the revolutionary 6-foot-5 forward/center became the first player drafted by the Seattle Storm and the first Australian athlete inducted into the Hall of Fame.
“This is absolutely a dream come true,” Jackson said during a recorded video message. “It’s one of the greatest honors of my entire life, and it’s something that I’m going to cherish for the rest of my life. It’s so special to be enshrined as the first of many Australian basketball players.
“I just want to express my gratitude and just wish I could be there. Thank you very much. Have a great day and hopefully I can get over there one day to celebrate with you all.”
Jackson was unable to attend the ceremony in Springfield, Massachusetts, watching instead from her home in Albury, Australia, due to COVID-19 restrictions and the Australian government’s nonessential travel ban.
During a brisk three-minute speech, Jackson acknowledged the trio of teams that she spent the bulk of her career with including the Storm, the Canberra Capitals of the Women’s Basketball League and the Australian women’s national basketball team.
“They gave me an opportunity to have this platform and play the game that I love,” she said. “They also gave me a family and a home within their organizations, which is something that I truly cherish.”
Jackson also paid tribute to women’s basketball fans, teammates, coaches and her friends and family in Australia, particularly her parents, Gary Jackson and Maree Bennie.
“Without your unconditional love and support throughout the years, I don’t know if I would have ever achieved what I did in the sport,” she said. “I am forever in debt to you and just everything you do for me, and I will be eternally grateful. Thank you so much.”
Jackson was one of 16 inductees including Paul Pierce, Chris Bosh, Ben Wallace, Chris Webber, Bill Russell, Rick Adelman, Jay Wright, Yolanda Griffith, Val Ackerman, Howard Garfinkel, Cotton Fitzsimmons, Bob Dandridge, Toni Kukoc, Pearl Moore and Clarence “Fats” Jenkins.
“It was my dream to one day make the Naismith and be recognized alongside such an illustrious group of basketball people and also to be able to celebrate with you and my family,” said Jackson, who chose former Houston Comets great Sheryl Swoopes as her presenter.
Russell, the Boston Celtics great who was inducted in the Hall of Fame as a player in 1975, received his second HOF orange jacket for his eight-year coaching career, which included NBA championships with Boston in 1968 and ’69. Russell, the NBA’s first Black head coach, also led the Seattle Sonics to a 162-166 record and two Western Conference semifinals appearances (1975 and ’76) during a four-year stint.
Russell, who was introduced by former President Barack Obama, was joined on stage by Hall of Famers Charles Barkley, Julius Erving, Spencer Haywood, Alonzo Mourning, Bill Walton and Rick Welts.
“Coaching the Celtics was one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences I had during my 13 years in the NBA,” the 87-year-old Russell said in a recorded video in which he thanked his HOF presenters, former NBA Commissioner David Stern, former Los Angeles Lakers great Kobe Bryant and his wife, Jeannine.