SEATTLE -- With former three-time WNBA MVP Lauren Jackson in attendance as part of a sellout crowd Wednesday, Seattle Storm forward Breanna Stewart continued her push for a second MVP award, scoring a season-high 33 points in 31 minutes as the Storm defeated the Minnesota Lynx 89-77.
Jackson, who played her entire 12-year WNBA career in Seattle, returned to the city for the first time since having her No. 15 jersey retired in 2016 during Stewart's rookie season. Having the franchise's other MVP in attendance helped motivate Stewart's performance.
"To me, LJ is obviously a legend, one of the best to ever do it," she said. "The fact that we have similar paths now after being drafted in Seattle and trying to take anything that I can from her game and add it to mine. Growing up, she was one of the players that I was looking up to because of her versatility, the inside-out game.
"To be able to have her here, obviously it's an honor, I think it's amazing for her to be here for Sue [Bird] and you want to put on a show for her. She's definitely someone that I look up to, and we said it in the locker room, but she helped build what we are with the Storm. Really appreciating that and never forgetting it."
Like Stewart, Jackson found her greatest success alongside Bird, who has announced she will retire at the end of the 2022 season. Bird was drafted No. 1 overall in 2002, a year after Seattle took Jackson with the same pick, and together the two stars lifted the Storm to titles in 2004 and 2010. The Bird-Stewart combo has matched that with championships in 2018 and 2020.
Because of the distance from Jackson's native Australia, she has rarely returned to Seattle since last playing in the WNBA in 2012. The timing of Bird's final season matched up well with Jackson already having traveled to the United States with the Australian national team for a training camp and exhibitions last week, allowing her to visit for Bird's second-to-last home game of the regular season.
Before the game, Jackson downplayed her own importance while praising Stewart's game.
"Stewie is just incredible," Jackson said. "As a professional athlete, she's evolved into the best in the world. Our games are different in the sense that I'm probably a little bit bigger and I play inside a little bit more, but what she can do inside and outside, there's no one better than here. She's great.
"I'm just an old athlete. I'm just an ex-Storm player. What she's doing is incredible, and it's fun to watch as a fan."
Jackson was reminded she is more than just a former player when she visited the Seattle locker room postgame to congratulate the team on the win.
"She was just very appreciative and thankful," Storm coach Noelle Quinn said. "Our players were like, 'No, thank you.' She's like, 'Probably none of you in here know who I am.' We're like, 'What? No, they definitely know.' She's just amazed at our team and how we played tonight.
"That's a legend in front of us, and I thought it was an amazing moment for our group to have one of the greats not only for this organization but in the game of basketball be standing in front of us. I thought it was amazing."
Stewart got off to a strong start Wednesday, scoring 12 points and handing out four assists in the first quarter as Seattle opened up a 12-point lead and never looked back. She needed just 20 shot attempts and two trips to the free throw line to score 33 points, finishing with eight rebounds and five assists in one of her best performances of the season.