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Friday, June 18, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Storm

Nude photos of Jackson may stir up a storm of controversy

Seattle Times staff reporter

Tomorrow
Stormat Houston, 5:30 p.m.

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HOUSTON — We all know the obsession. Whether you're into men or women, one glimpse of an athletic body performing feats not thought feasible by mortals makes you wonder more about the person.

It's the reason paparazzi exist and gossip magazines thrive.

Storm star Lauren Jackson, after being asked in 2000 and again in 2002, finally agreed to bare all for an artistic Australian photo magazine called Black+White. Jackson appears on the cover, with the title "The Athens Dream," in tribute to the upcoming Summer Games in Greece. Wisps of Jackson's bleached-blond hair dangle over her creamy skin. Inside the magazine, Jackson, 23, reveals everything except her, ahem, down under.

The issue, which will be available at Seattle area bookstores Tuesday, is the third photo essay edition of Australian Olympic hopefuls. It features 35 athletes, including dripping-wet swimmer Michael Klim.

To Australians, it's like being asked to light the Olympic flame.

In America, Jackson runs the risk of being criticized.

"Do you really think it's that big a deal?" she pondered when asked about the nude pics after practice yesterday.

Well, just ask Storm guard Sue Bird if she'd do it and you might better understand American culture.

"Personally, after all the flak I got for the Dime (magazine) shoot, and I was fully clothed, I'd have to seriously think about it," Bird said of her approximate six-hour photo session last summer. She was vilified by media for posing seductively in a Philadelphia 76ers jersey and stating "sex sells" when it comes to women's basketball.

Then there was that whole spanking incident when, in a comedic moment on live sports radio, Bird agreed to bend over a host's lap and shout "Harder, daddy, harder!" on air if she didn't achieve a certain assist-to-turnover ratio by season's end. But Bird, then 22, was thinking competitively, not about battered women, a subject to which the spectacle was linked later.

"They are totally isolated, different incidents," said Karen Bryant, the Storm's chief operating officer, who said she was told of Jackson's nude photos this week. "Sue immediately retracted what she said. Lauren is not going to apologize about this. This is something that she has chosen to do and she doesn't have any regrets at all."

Feeling too young at 18 to participate in 2000 and too busy with her Storm season during the 2002 shoot, Jackson mulled over the idea for this year's magazine with her family in the offseason.

She wasn't paid to pose, but she was flown to Sydney to work with award-winning photographer Steve Lowe and a makeup artist in a private session that took about seven hours. Jackson handpicked her pictures, getting complete control over the process.

After the Olympics, all the photos used in the magazine will be auctioned to benefit charities.

"I feel really comfortable with my body and shape I'm in, and I know I'm not going to be like this forever," Jackson said. "I was really nervous at first, but it was conquering one of my fears. I felt very much empowered at the end.

"It's me all over and I'm really happy with the photos. As athletes you work so hard to get in shape for competition. This celebrates the athletic body and how much work you put in. We do it the right way; we don't starve ourselves."

Jackson said she doesn't view the shots as objectifying women, either. Especially because the magazine, which will sell for $40, is equal parts men and women.

Scour the Internet and opinions vary, however.

One fan ripped the idea, saying it continues the idea that women athletes are eye candy and that the pictures would ruin the credibility of the WNBA. The author went on to say that as one of the faces of the league and the Storm, Jackson needs to act responsibly.

"Both of these organizations depend on the support of families in one of the most conservative countries in the world," wrote True Blue 22. "No matter how tasteful the photos are, some of those families will be offended just because they are nude photos. The Storm and the WNBA have provided LJ with substantial income and recognition and are entitled to ask for a higher standard from one of their marquee players."

Meanwhile, an earlier post on a hardcore Storm fans site didn't think it was up for discussion.

"We like to think of LJ as our Seattle Storm player, and we sometimes forget she's from a different country and a different culture," wrote nellie2034. "I think we as Americans sometimes put ourselves so much above the rest of the world and try and place our values on others too often. She had her reasons, she is an adult and I would hope that people would respect her decision. I just don't think it's our place to discuss whether she should have or not."

Bryant said the team has no control over its players during the offseason and wouldn't share her opinions about the pictures because of her position. But the topic of nude women athletes has been a debate since Los Angeles Sparks center Lisa Leslie was shown artistically nude in a 1998 Nike ad aired during the Super Bowl.

Also, former Storm guard Michelle Marciniak was asked to pose naked for Playboy after winning its sexiest WNBA player contest in 2002, and Sacramento Monarchs guard Ruthie Bolton posed in an itsy-bitsy bikini for "Women's Basketball."

So Jackson's breasts, which will grace the glossy pages of 75,000 copies, aren't alone.

"I really did it with the Australians in mind," Jackson said. "It's a prestigious thing in Australia. Believe it or not, but my mom and dad (Maree and Gary) loved it. My dad saw it the other day, called me and said he was so proud of me."

Jackson's teammates share the sentiment. Bird loved Jackson's hair, and fellow Australian Tully Bevilaqua adored the cover shot.

"She looks sensational," Bevilaqua said. "The human body is nothing to be ashamed of."

Jayda Evans: 206-464-2067 or jevans@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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