For 20 weeks, to commemorate the WNBA’s 20th season (the MSR having covered each season), the MSR sports section is featuring a column or article on the W in our “20 in 20” series. This week: best seat in the house
Michael Cooper’s place in W history is well secured and most deserved. He is the first Black coach to win a WNBA championship (Los Angeles — 2001, 2002), the last league coach to win back-to-back titles, and the first Black coach to make three consecutive finals (2001-03).
“I just love being a part of it,” said Cooper last month to the MSR after his Atlanta Dream played Minnesota, who is slated for its fifth Finals in six years this weekend in pursuit of its second consecutive crown.
One of the most successful coaches in W history, Cooper is third in regular-season winning percentage (almost 63 percent) and the fifth coach to have 200 or more career wins.
“I love the fact that I get a chance to sit on the sidelines and watch this league get better and better every year,” admitted Cooper, who also won a 2006 NBA D-League title and was Denver’s interim head coach for part of the 2005-06 season. He also coached at the University of Southern California for four seasons (2009-13).
He moved to coaching after a stellar NBA playing career that included five league championships in 12 years with the Los Angeles Lakers; eight-time all defense – five times on the first team; and 1987 defensive player of the year. During his two stints in Los Angeles, and just completing his third season in Atlanta, Cooper has coached the likes of Lisa Leslie, a Hall of Famer, and Angel McCoughtry, a probable HOFer when her career finally comes to an end.
“I’ve coached in this league 15 years, and I coached probably four of the best players who ever played in this game,” continued the Dream coach. “Angel is right up there among the best.”
“You can’t go out and score 50 [points] — the WNBA is about team,” he pointed out. “When Lisa Leslie understood that concept, not only did she become a great individual player but also a great team player, because she made everyone around her better.
“Great players make other players around them better,” reiterated Cooper. “I think that’s what Angel is slowly learning. She’s always been a one-man wrecking machine.
“I think Angel has had a phenomenal career,” continued her coach. “She’s still got many, many miles on her, a couple of years left” in her career. “I’m much honored to coach her.”
If he has a criticism of the league it is that because of the low salaries, players are supplementing their athletic incomes by heading overseas virtually as soon as the W season concludes. “One thing that hurts our players,” noted Cooper, “[is that] they don’t get the time off as the guys. A lot of their greatness is spent overseas.”
Just due to the fact that the WNBA has been around for 20 years, we have seen the inspirational growth among young players, the second wave of stars. “You got players like Maya Moore, Seimone Augustus, Skylar Diggins who as young kids watched the Lisa Leslies, Sheryl Swoopeses and Coop [Cynthia Cooper, no relation] establish [the league]. Now these young ladies can see Brittney Griner dominate and dunk when she wants to,” concluded Cooper. “Now you get to see them put [the WNBA] on their backs.”
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.