On one of the first road trips of the Los Angeles Sparks’ season, coach Brian Agler’s voice boomed across the locker room in Indiana.
He turned to veteran forward Tiffany Jackson-Jones with an out-of-nowhere request.
“Tiff,” he said. “Tell your story.”
A number of the older players on the team knew the outline of what they were about to hear – after all, the league is a small and close-knit community. Some of the rookies were hearing it for the first time. But because this was Jackson-Jones’ first year with the Sparks, none of her teammates really knew the full story of why she was suddenly gone from the league after the 2015 season.
She was fighting breast cancer. She’d found a lump and been diagnosed at age 30, despite no family history indicating she would be at risk.
She missed the entire 2016 WNBA season, which would have been her ninth in the league (she sat out in 2012 to give birth to a son). Athletes become conditioned to forget about injured players and focus on training and getting better. So nobody in that locker room had considered what it must have been like: that even at her worst, Jackson-Jones was telling her support system to not let her slack, to demand that she get to the gym because she knew she had to play basketball again. And that her son, just 3-years-old at the time, was her constant motivation. He would shuffle off to grandmother’s house on the weekend, knowing only that mom had lots of doctors appointments.
“I guess you’re not grateful that this ever happens but I was grateful it happened when he was so young,” Jackson-Jones said, “so he really didn’t understand and he still doesn’t understand what happened.”
But lots of people in the WNBA did – she received phone calls, visits, presents and texts from around the league after her diagnosis, she said. And she knew that her new teammates would gain something from hearing about why she was even more grateful to be on the court this season.
So, she did what her coach said. She told her story.
“So after I tell my story there’s, of course, not a dry eye in the room,” she said. “And I was like, ‘Guys please stop, I can’t. It’s OK.’ “
(Photo by Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images)
Of course, Jackson-Jones didn’t always know it was going to be OK.
She was playing in Israel during the WNBA offseason when she first found the lump in her breast in April 2015. But with only a month left in the season there, she decided to wait until she was back in the…