Lots of Q-and-A-ing on Wednesday as the WNBA had a conference call in the afternoon, and I chatted with Lauren Jackson during the evening in Australia. Yeah, she was in Oz, not me, and it was Thursday afternoon there.
LJ is in the wedding of Seattle teammate Suzy Batkovic on May 30, then she flies to the United States on Sunday. Remember the poll here after she re-signed with Seattle in early May, where I asked if fans considered her to be one of the 10 best players ever? Eighty-seven percent of the respondents said yes.
Naturally, Jackson is not the sort to say, “Oh, yeah, of course they did,” when this was mentioned to her.
“That’s a flattering, definitely,” she said. “But I don’t really see it like that. I’ve been around so many great players, and I feel like I’m lucky to just be a part of it. I had good timing.”
It’s nice to see someone Jackson’s age – she turned 28 on May 11 – acknowledge the good fortune of being a player in her prime now, as opposed to 20 years ago. But it works both ways. It was very, very lucky for the WNBA that Jackson came around when she did. And that she’s stayed committed to playing in the WNBA.
As for the conference call, its opening part was four coaches: Connecticut’s Mike Thibault, LA’s Michael Cooper, San Antonio’s Dan Hughes and Detroit’s Bill Laimbeer. Rick Mahorn actually filled in for the the start of it, then Laimbeer came on later and apologized, saying he had been sleeping.
Uh-huh. I don’t buy it. I think he was probably delayed getting on the call because he was trying to figure out whom he could fleece in his next trade.
My favorite moment of the coaches’ part of the call was when someone asked Laimbeer and Cooper about the rivalry between their two squads (you may remember a little fracas last year). And they were talking about how the past was the past but still … of course the two teams don’t like each other, and there is that extra energy that surrounds their matchups, and the players always get up for these games and they really go at it …
Then Thibault interrupted with, “Ah, I hope you kill each other.”
It probably doesn’t read as funny as it sounded, but it was hilarious.
Then the players came on the call: Indiana’s Tamika Catchings, Detroit’s Katie Smith, Minnesota’s Candice Wiggins and San Antonio’s Becky Hammon. There’s a lot of buzz about Hammon having a conflict because the Russian National team, for whom she competed in the Beijing Olympics, wants her for the upcoming European championships in June.
The latest update is that Hammon will play in San Antonio’s first two games, but might miss the next two in order to go play for Russia. I don’t want to really get deeply into the whole Becky-and-Russia saga again now, but this situation will inevitably add more fuel for those who opposed her decision to play for Russia. The bottom line, though, is that San Antonio will just need to deal with whatever she does. Maybe the Silver Stars will come up with some kind of fine for her if she misses any of their games, although I don’t quite see what purpose that would serve.
While I don’t believe in Olympic “free-agency” – which is what this Hammon situation with Russia was – what’s done is done: She is an important part of their national team. And the WNBA’s teams always have had to make allowances for players’ various obligations overseas.
Besides, it always spices up the WNBA season to have some kind of Becky intrigue going on.
And, frankly, even if you were adamantly against her Olympic decision, I don’t see how anyone could possibly question Hammon’s commitment to the WNBA and the Silver Stars.
While it was interesting hearing the coaches on the teleconference, the players were really a joy to talk with. It perks me up just to hear the familiar voices of these four, who are all so well-spoken, educated and passionate about basketball and their hopes for their teams and the league. It really reminds you of how the total-person aspect of the players is one of the WNBA’s biggest strengths.
*-Note: I’ll have more WNBA stories on ESPN.com – including a look at how LJ’s decision to stay in Seattle impacts not just the Storm but every team – in the next week-plus as we approach the start of the season.