Jackson reflects on 'uncomfortable' career

Lauren Jackson, a nervous 19-year-old from small-town Australia, was whisked around New York in a limousine as the WNBA's No.1 draft pick in 2001.

For the next decade the Albury-born Jackson dominated the world-leading basketball league with Seattle, winning two titles, claiming MVP honours three times and making seven All-Star teams.

She will be inducted into the WNBA's Women's Basketball Hall of Fame next year but, despite all her achievements, the discomfort she felt in that limousine never went away.

And almost exactly 19 years on, Jackson admits watching tributes surface on social media around the anniversary of her draft have left her wishing she was better at enjoying the trappings of her success.

"I was scared, so scared (on draft night). The flight was terrible, I always had massive anxiety flying, so I was pretty shattered," she told AAP.

"I had no idea what I was walking into, but I knew I was going to be uncomfortable with something every day and knew I had to get through it.

"When I was in it I was just like 'oh god, this is so hard'. Every day was a slog and I really struggled.

"That mentality has helped me move forward with my career out of sport - I don't think anything is as hard as being a professional athlete.

"I wish that I had tried to soak it up a bit more when I was in it, because when you are out of it you really are."

Jackson earned about $US40,000 ($A63,012) in her first WNBA season, and went on to supplement her salary with stints in Russia, South Korea, Spain and China as well as enjoying a long WNBL career with Canberra.

The relentless schedule took its toll, the Opals star retiring as a 34-year-old four years ago, on the eve of what would have been a fifth Olympic Games appearance.

Things peaked in 2010 when Jackson won her second WNBA championship and was also crowned league and finals MVP.

But she said that sort of sustained good form was only possible when the unlikely combination of a broken back and the murder of her Russian team owner convinced her to skip her usual European jaunt.

"I had to play a million games a year in different countries to be paid like a professional athlete and that's where my body broke down," Jackson, now 38, said.

"I feel bad, I wish I could be like some of my teammates who are still playing at around 40 now.

"But the pressure ... oh man. Focusing on myself for 15-20 years just got too much for me and all I wanted to do was have a family and give my love to something other than myself.

"It was full on."

She has that family now, two boys she has been delighted to bunker down with during the coronavirus shutdown. She also enjoys turning her hand to cooking when her new role as women's basketball head for Basketball Australia allows.

"I always look back and think 'if I'd just taken that time' (and not played year-round every year) I'd probably still be playing," she said.

"It sounds like I'm reminiscing and wishing but I'm not at all, it's just suddenly all on social media, Michael Jordan's documentary (The Last Dance) has come out, so it's all in front of you suddenly.

"My kids are my life, I've never felt more complete than I do now and having this opportunity to change the face of women's basketball in this country to align with its standing in the world."

Jackson won a world title with the Opals in 2006 as well as three silvers and a bronze in four Olympic campaigns.

The current world No.2 side will host the 2022 World Cup in Sydney, a platform for the players to boost their profiles like the Australian women's cricket team did earlier this year.

"Girls have just got to keep speaking out and speaking up, being proactive in making people aware that language (around women and sport) needs to change," she said.

"And you see it on the news, it's starting to change and it's a breath of fresh air.

"During the Olympics and world champs we've always had so much support so we just need to keep reminding people that the best players in Australia are actually playing in the WNBL and we have a new CEO (Jerril Rechter) who is really committed to seeing it grow.

"It gives me inspiration and confidence that we have the support and people to capitalise."