SEATTLE — The prized package was safely delivered by Storm All-Stars Sue Bird and Tina Thompson.
The teammates picked up Australian Olympian Lauren Jackson at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport late Monday night, solving women’s basketball fans’ biggest question: When will their three-time MVP return?
“She’s here? Oh thank God!” Carrie Elwell said from her Section 101 seats upon hearing Jackson was at KeyArena for the Storm’s matchup against Minnesota. The Aussie missed 22 WNBA games, including Tuesday’s 86-73 loss.
“I read that she took extra time off because of the Olympics to go home and have a celebration and that’s fine,” Elwell explained. “But then we’re (family) like, ‘Where is she?’ We were looking for her (tonight) and hadn’t seen her.”
Named flag bearer for her fourth Olympics, Jackson fulfilled some unexpected national team obligations before returning to Seattle. She partied with the Prime Minister, led parades and was given the key to Sydney.
But while she was doted on, the Storm’s record without her suffered. Tuesday’s defeat left the Storm 39-45 without Jackson, playing her 12th WNBA season.
Only it seemed as if Storm players didn’t care. Throughout the Lynx matchup they jumped higher. They were more precise with their shooting. They passed with more accuracy. And they looked happier, partly because Jackson was on the bench.
“A lot of these guys go way back (with Lauren),” veteran guard Katie Smith said. “So you’re like ‘Yea, everybody’s here!’ We’re excited and have more people in the locker room.”
But Jackson smirked as she lifted her pants to expose bare legs when asked if she would get an itch to play if the deficit grew.
“I’m wearing my (Glee’s) Sue Sylvester sweatsuit,” Jackson joked of the Storm warmup, paired with black sneakers and untaped ankles. The look made it clear the global star couldn’t play even if she wanted.
The Storm (10-12) also missed Tina Thompson (knee) and Ann Wauters (Achilles) in the post rotation. With Jackson, the trio combines to average 45.5 career points and 36 years of WNBA experience.
“If this morning (shoot-around) was any indication what I’d be like tonight, there’s no way,” Jackson said. “I’d rather have a practice session under my belt and just go from there. For us now, it’s just to make sure we’re the best possible team, shape we can be in by playoffs. But I’ve heard so many good things about this team ... I want to be a part of that.”
The Storm closed to 69-64 in the fourth quarter. Minnesota finished with a 17-9 run to earn the victory.
Jackson was honored pregame with a bouquet of flowers for her winning bronze and setting the Olympic all-time scoring record (575 points). Then fans’ interest immediately switched to the game.
The defending champion Lynx (18-4) are the first WNBA team to clinch a playoff berth. Because Phoenix (4-17) and Tulsa (3-18) continue to flounder, Seattle is practically assured the fourth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
Seattle would then play Minnesota in the opening round. The Storm dropped the regular-season series 1-3. Yet the reserves have experience against the Lynx. Coach Brian Agler has tested different combinations.
And Jackson’s back.