Sport

Lauren Jackson fights for Rio Olympic Games dream as she overcomes knee drama

A defiant Lauren Jackson has vowed to fight for her Olympic Games dream until her body says there's no hope left in her bid to make it to Rio, giving herself a one-month timeframe to make a final call on her career.

Australian basketball champion Jackson is refusing to give up on what she admits would be an "absolute miracle" as she targets a comeback for the Opals later this year.

Chronic knee problems and a long list of surgeries have stalled and threatened to end a glittering career as one of the world's best female basketballers.

Jackson, 34, contemplated retirement when she was hospitalised with an infection last month, with her knee swelling to more than double its normal size.

However, Jackson is holding on to any glimmer of hope with Basketball Australia working with for the next month to see if her body can cope with the load required to return to the court.

Making it to Rio would be a chance for Jackson to go out on her terms while the Canberra Capitals will farewell the four-time Olympian at a tribute match on Friday night, signalling the end of a WNBL career that spanned 19 years.

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"I've had such a bad run [with injuries] that you've got to expect a bit of luck at some point. After the infection in my knee joint I was close to saying, 'no, I can't do this any more'," Jackson said.

"Rio is still my goal and we're looking towards March. I've had so much support that it's been unbelievable. I'm still hopeful [of the Olympics] and I wouldn't be doing it I didn't think there was a bit of hope.

"I'm going to give it a go. Whatever my decision is, I'm confident it will be the right one. But this is an end of an era for me in Canberra."

Basketball Australia has pledged its support, offering help through her rehabilitation and to ensure a smooth transition to life after retirement.

It is likely Jackson will need a knee replacement when she finally winds up her career after numerous operations that have cut short her glittering career.

Jackson carried the Australian flag into the opening ceremony in London in 2012, has four Olympic medals - three silver and a bronze - as well as winning WNBL, WNBA and Euro League titles in a career that started at the AIS in 1997.

Even if she can make it to another Olympic campaign, it would likely be her last basketball commitment before hanging up her shoes for good.

Her presence would be a massive boost to the Opals' campaign in Rio, even if she isn't 100 per cent fit after almost two years of chronic knee problems.

She will start working at the AIS gym next week to rebuild strength in her leg before slowly getting back on to the court.

"Every athlete's fear is that they'll be told, 'you have to retire, we've got no hope for you'. That's one thing I was worried about," Jackson said.

"It would be an absolute miracle if I could make it to Rio, it would be the best thing in the world. BA have been so supportive ... honestly I've never felt this much support. It's amazing, At the moment there's no way I could get on a basketball court and shoot.

"But I have this opportunity. I've had a great career ... and I'm think there's hope for me. I just have to be positive, I'm not going to get excited or expect anything. You never know. I know the next decision is going to be hard."

Fairfax Media revealed in December that Jackson's WNBL career was over after being released from her third-party $1 million contract with the Capitals.

At her peak she was the best player in the world and will go down as one of the greatest players in female history.

But her injuries limited her to just six games in five seasons and she was devastated that she didn't get to farewell Canberra with another title.

Her tribute match - the Capitals' clash against the Perth Lynx at the AIS Arena - is the end of an era.

Jackson joined the Capitals in 1999 to team up with coach Carrie Graf for the club's first title, and made four grand finals in her first four seasons at the club.. Now Jackson and Graf are leaving at the same time.

"I'd love nothing less than to see a grand-final type crowd in the AIS Arena to say thanks to Lauren Jackson," Graf said.

"She has paved the way for professional female athletes, she's an icon for basketball. One of the greatest ever, male or female. She's Bradman-esque. A once in a century player."

WNBL round 17

Friday: Canberra Capitals v Perth Lynx at AIS Arena, 7pm. Tickets available at the door. Lauren Jackson will be involved in a Q+A at half-time followed by an autograph session with fans after the match.

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