Lakers defensive great Michael Cooper elected to Hall of Fame

Sunday, April 7, 2024
ABC7 Eyewitness News
Stream Southern California's News Leader and Original Shows 24/7

LOS ANGELES (CNS) -- Michael Cooper, who helped the Lakers win five NBA championships during the 1980s "Showtime" era and later coached the Los Angeles Sparks to two WNBA titles, has been elected to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, the organization announced Saturday.

A Los Angeles native, the 67-year-old Cooper played at Pasadena High School and Pasadena City College before attending New Mexico from 1976-78. He was drafted by the Lakers in the third round of 1978's NBA draft and played his entire 12-year NBA career with the team.

The lanky Cooper was known for his tenacious defense, usually drawing the opponent's toughest scorer. His battles with Boston Celtics' star Larry Bird during the teams' three meetings in the NBA Finals were particularly memorable, and Bird once said Cooper was the toughest defender he played against.

The 6-foot-7 inch Cooper was named to the NBA's all-defensive first team five times, and won the NBA Defensive Player of the Year Award in 1987. He was also especially skilled at two features of the modern NBA game -- the three- point shot and the alley-oop dunk.

After his playing days ended, Cooper became head coach of the Sparks in November 1999, and led the team to consecutive WNBA titles in 2001 and 2002.

He coached the Albuquerque Thunderbirds of the NBA's D-League from 2005-07, leading that team to a championship in 2006, and returned to coach the Sparks again from 2007-09. He was later head coach of the USC women's basketball team and the WNBA's Atlanta Dream.

Cooper's best friend on those 1980s Lakers teams, Hall of Famer Magic Johnson, broke the news about his friend's selection on Thursday.

On Friday, former LA Laker Michael Cooper showed up to support the troops.

"I don't even know where to start! I tried to wait until Saturday - but I just can't hold the news I'm so so thrilled that my Showtime running mate and one of my best friends Michael Cooper has been elected into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame!!" Johnson posted on X.

"Coop is the greatest defensive player I've ever seen in the NBA - and I would know because I went up against him every single day in practice! His play on the offensive end was strong too. He was an excellent point guard and 3-point shooting threat. A lot of people may not know that he once held the record for the most 3-pointers in an NBA Finals game (with 6) before Steph Curry came along. He was mentally and physically tough, which made him such an amazing teammate. And I can't forget about our special alley oops, aka the Coop- a-Loop! I loved throwing him those high lobs, which always sent the Forum into a frenzy!

"I'm so happy for Michael, his wife Yvonne, and his kids for this well-deserved honor and Laker Nation should be ecstatic as well! Cookie and I can't wait to support Coop at the Hall of Fame ceremony on August 17th."

Cooper joins a crowded 2024 Hall of Fame class that also includes Lakers legend Jerry West, who was inducted for a record third time. West's latest election comes as a contributor to the game. West, 85, has already been inducted into the Hall of Fame as a player in 1979 and as a member of the 1960 U.S. Olympic team in 2010.

The contributor enshrinement honors his work as a general manager with the Lakers (1982-2000) and Memphis Grizzlies (2002-07), in addition to his time as a consultant with the Golden State Warriors (2011-17) and in his current position with the Clippers.

Michael Cooper
Michael Cooper speaks during a news conference for The Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame at the NCAA college basketball Tournament on Saturday, April 6, 2024, in Phoenix.
AP Photo/David J. Phillip

While in those roles, West has won eight championships and was twice selected NBA Executive of the Year.

"Congratulations to the logo legend and already 2x Hall of Famer Jerry West for being elected into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame for the third time as a contributor!" Johnson posted Wednesday on X.

"Thank you for drafting a skinny kid for Michigan State to the Lakers 45 years ago - together, we won 5 championships! You extended your winning legacy as the architect for the Kobe and Shaq era with an NBA Championship three-peat. THEN after doing a great job in Memphis, you went on to help Golden State win 2 Championships. This honor is well-deserved and well-earned!"

As a player, West was a 14-time All-Star with the Lakers, and was the inspiration for the NBA's logo.

Others elected to the Hall class announced Saturday are Vince Carter, Walter Davis, Chauncey Billups, Doug Collins, Dick Barnett, Charles Smith, Bo Ryan, Herb Simon, Harley Redin, Michele Timms and Seimone Augustus.

Barnett played 14 seasons in the NBA, including with the Lakers from 1962-65.

"Without a shadow of doubt, the accomplishments of the 2024 class stand as a testament to unparalleled excellence," HOF President and CEO John Doleva said. "From showcasing unrivaled prowess on the courts and sidelines, spanning the high school, collegiate and professional ranks, to steering the course of basketball across an entire continent and to orchestrating a pair of dynasties, we are honored to pay tribute to these remarkable individuals alongside our esteemed award recipients."

The Hall of Fame Class of 2024 ceremony will take place Aug. 16-17 in Springfield, Mass.