Michael Cooper

Guard, #21


The rail-thin, 6-foot-5 guard spent his entire 12-year career with the Lakers, playing an important role in helping the team win five NBA titles during the "Showtime" era of the 1980s. Selected in the third round of the 1978 draft, the New Mexico standout was considered by many to be one of the best defensive players of his era.

He was named the NBA defensive player of the year in 1987 and was selected to the league's all-defensive team eight times. Cooper was also a favorite among fans, who faithfully echoed "Cooooooop" off the walls of the Forum every time he controlled the ball.

Cooper primarily played off the bench during most of his career, but his playing time increased during his second season as he helped the team win its first title in eight years. The Lakers relied on Cooper as their defensive specialist, often using him to shut down the other team's top player. Larry Bird, who led the Boston Celtics to three NBA Finals appearances against the Lakers in the 1980s, said Cooper was the best defensive player he faced.

Cooper, the only player along with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson to be a part of each of the Lakers' "Showtime"-era title teams, was waived by the team after the 1989-90 season. He played one season in Italy before retiring and focusing his attention on coaching.

Cooper worked as a special assistant to Lakers General Manager Jerry West in the early 1990s before taking on assistant coaching roles under Lakers coaches Magic Johnson and Del Harris. In 1999, he took over as coach of the Sparks of the WNBA, winning titles in 2001 and 2002. Cooper was hired as coach of the USC women’s basketball team in 2009.

— Austin Knoblauch
Feb. 16, 2011