Chris Dutton July 29, 2012
THEY are three of the biggest names in basketball and fierce competitors in the NBA, but LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant agree on one thing - Lauren Jackson is one of the greatest women's players in history.
And while they hope the United States women's team will deny Jackson the gold medal she desperately craves, the superstar trio heaped praise on the Opals captain after she carried the Australian flag into the opening ceremony yesterday.
Jackson's glittering basketball career got another highlight when she led the Australian team into the Olympic Games stadium.
She's conquered every title and individual award in world basketball, but the US has ensured her Olympic career boasts just three silver medals.
The 31-year-old has been widely regarded as one of the world's best players for more than a decade and James, Bryant and Durant have taken notice.
James even described her as similar to NBA most valuable player and championship winner Dirk Nowitzki.
''She is close to the top,'' James said when asked by Fairfax where Jackson rated in women's basketball history.
''There are all these great players around her, but Lauren Jackson is definitely up there.
''She's won a WNBA championship with a great team in Seattle, she's really good.
''She reminds me of Dirk in our league, someone who is taller than everyone else but has the shooting ability of a point guard or shooting guard … I think it's awesome [she's carrying the flag].''
Bryant rated Jackson in the top three female players in history.
''Everyone I talk to has her in the top three - and I mean everyone. I've got so much respect for [Jackson],'' Bryant said.
''I think it is a tremendous honour for her, she's been doing it for a number of years and it's a sign of respect for the way she's done it and conducted herself and I'm very happy for her.''
The Opals begin their Olympic campaign against Great Britain this morning (7.15am Canberra time).
With Penny Taylor out of the tournament with injury, Jackson will be lumped with the task of leading the Opals through the pool rounds and into the gold medal match.
Oklahoma City Thunder star Durant described Jackson as ''amazing to watch'' - not a bad compliment from one of the highest-profile players in the world's toughest league.
''She is right at the top, she is an unbelievable player and versatile so that she can do just about everything on the court,'' Durant said.
''It's amazing to watch her … our women's team is pretty good, but anything can happen in these Olympics, so hopefully our women's team stays strong and they're looking good now.''
Jackson's parents Gary and Maree arrived in London just in time to watch their daughter carry the flag.
They weren't in the stadium, instead they watched form a private function in the city.
They were in danger of missing the event because their flight was delayed, but Qantas swapped their flights so they could be in the same city to watch the historic event.
Jackson was the first female to carry the flag for Australia in 20 years.
Gary and Maree have seen their daughter win everything on offer in women's basketball, but they were almost speechless when they heard the news on their flight from Australia to London.
''I never thought I would drink champagne at 3am in the morning, but that's what we did when the [in-flight staff] came down with a bottle,'' Gary said.
''There were a few tears from Maree but we were just all overwhelmed … [Jackson] has managed to stun her mother so many times, but she's just so unassuming.''