Lauren Jackson of the Canberra Capitals drives at the basket. Photo: Matt Bedford She is a Canberra sporting legend, but basketballer Lauren Jackson’s career in the capital appears over with her release from the final months of her landmark $1 million deal.
Almost 20 years after starting as a shy and lanky teenager at the AIS, Jackson has likely played her last game for the Canberra Capitals due to a new knee injury that also threatens her Rio Olympics hopes.
Fairfax Media can reveal Jackson has been released by the club after having more knee surgery, ending what was a record-breaking domestic contract for an Australian female athlete but during which she only took to the court six times.
Jackson was unavailable for comment on Wednesday, but is understood to be devastated by the likely end of her stellar career with the Capitals.
But the four-time Olympian isn’t prepared to give up the fight to play for Australia again, telling friends and teammates she’s determined to regain fitness in time for the August Olympics in Brazil.
Jackson will stay in Canberra to continue her rehabilitation with the Australian Sports Commission and Basketball Australia after her 10th knee operation in two years. She will also have to manage arthritis in her problematic knee for the rest of her life after playing through pain to train and play for at least the past five years.
Jackson’s release by the Capitals comes four years after she signed a deal constructed by third-party sponsors ActewAGL, TransACT, Basketball Australia and the ACT government to offer her almost $1 million to play three seasons between 2012 and 2016.
The fact she only played six matches in that time would suggest she pocketed $160,000 per game. However it is not known how much of the $1 million was made up of bonuses and it is believed she earned less than the full contract value.
The champion can stand comfortably alongside some of the capital’s greatest sporting icons including Canberra Raiders Mal Meninga and Laurie Daley and ACT Brumbies George Gregan and Stephen Larkham.
At her peak she was the best player in the world, winning WNBL titles with the AIS and Capitals before conquering the WNBA with Seattle, claiming world championships, most valuable player awards and Olympic silver and bronze medals.
But her body has been screaming at her after a career of travelling the world to competitions in the United States and Europe on her way to becoming one of Australia’s greatest female athletes.
As unlikely as a WNBL return would be given her injury history, Jackson desperately wants to repay Canberra for the $1 million deal and it’s believed she still holds onto a faint hope of returning for the Capitals if her body makes it through the Olympics.
It’s understood Basketball Australia and the Capitals will release a statement next week about Jackson’s future after her latest knee operation.
Jackson was so desperate to play for Canberra that she pushed herself too hard. She had fluid drained off her knee during games and after training sessions, as well as having stem cell and plasma injections in a bid to end her injury woes.
It did little to help as she played and trained through excruciating pain following 10 knee operations and major hamstring surgery in the past three years as the toll of a superb career caught up with her body.
Jackson did not want to comment on her WNBL future, but said on 3AW radio in Melbourne: “By March I’ll know [about my prospects of playing at the Rio Olympics]. At this stage, God, it’s been setback after setback.
“It’s so disappointing with the way my career has come around. But looking back I’ve been so fortunate to achieve and have done what I’ve done. I’m still trying, I’m still hoping for the best.”
The 34-year-old carried the Australian flag into the opening ceremony at the London Olympics in 2012 and will work with AIS and Basketball Australia medical staff to chase one last crack at gold.
Having to watch Canberra’s demise has made her injury pain even worse, with the Capitals slumping to last place on the ladder and 15 consecutive defeats.
Jackson helped guide the Capitals to their inaugural title in 1999-00 and transformed the club from competition strugglers to powerhouses.
Canberra business rallied and joined forces with the Capitals four years ago to put together a deal to help Jackson extend her career by playing in Australia’s WNBL competition.
The original plan for her deal with the Capitals was for her to play three of the four seasons between 2012 and 2016 to allow her to avoid having to play overseas and still maximise her earning potential.
However, a hamstring injury in 2012 followed by a knee problem suffered while playing in China have been the constant cause of pain and frustration for the veteran.
The Capitals return to WNBL action against the Bendigo Spirit in Victoria on Saturday.
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