Lakers legend Michael Cooper is still living his basketball dream

Michael Cooper is the definition of a basketball player in perpetuity.

Since the end of a Hall of Fame-caliber career for the Lakers, Cooper has gone on to coach in the NBA, WNBA, G League, NCAA and even Southern California high school hoops before landing in its current destination: the BIG3.

For someone who loves basketball as much as he does, it’s no surprise that he jumps at the chance to coach at any professional level, even a 3×3 league that is best known for its creator, Ice. Cube, than the actual game on the field. But Cooper chose BIG3 specifically because he enjoyed the flow of the game.

It’s been 27 years since he entered the profession, and Michael Cooper still never tires of coaching.
Photo by Andy Lyons / Getty Images for BIG3

As it turns out, there was an opening for Coach 3’s Company when Cooper met BIG3 Commissioner Clyde Drexler at the Atlanta airport a few years ago, and now the Laker legend is in his second season in as a team coach with Ryan Hollins, Jeremy Pargo, Arinze Onuaku, Drew Gooden, Mario Chalmers, DerMarr Johnson and David Hawkins.

“Here you can have the opportunity to coach great players past and present in the NBA,” said Cooper. “I have coached almost all levels. So why not give this a try? And I like it.”

“What I love is that you have three players who need to figure out how to play basketball as a team,” Cooper adds. “Usually when you go to the park and play a guy who’s the better offensive player will pick two weak guys, kind of like a rebounder and you know, maybe a passer and then he’ll score everything. Well 3-on-3 is a little different because you have to understand team play in the concept of being individuals on the court, and to train that means you have to sort of think outside the box. , and that’s what I like to do.

3’s Company is currently 2-4, with a week remaining in the regular season, and Pargo is the league leader in four-pointers, a trait Cooper expects the NBA to eventually adopt as it is. a “great game”. Cooper, who spoke to Silver Screen and Roll in the middle of the season, is also a big fan of the “Bring the Fire” rule, where a player can challenge an opponent 1 on 1 to protest an appeal. It seems a lot less likely to make its way to the NBA.

One of Cooper’s favorite parts of the BIG3 is the family atmosphere. Drexler is an old friend, that’s how he got involved in the first place. He gets to work with his former players, like Johnson, who played for Cooper in 2004-05 in Denver.

Minnesota Lynx vs. Los Angeles Sparks

Michael Cooper and Lisa Leslie flourished as a coach / player duo, and now Leslie is using Cooper’s lessons against him.
Photo by Noah Graham / NBAE via Getty Images

Cooper also gets the coach against his former players, like Lisa Leslie. Leslie led both Los Angeles Sparks’ WNBA titles when Cooper was at the helm, and now she continues her coaching legacy. The only problem for Cooper is that Leslie is really good.

“I hate it because she beats me,” Cooper said with a laugh, when asked to face Leslie in BIG3. “The one thing she and I always talked about after our days of training and playing with each other was that she was always like, ‘Coop you know what, the only thing I liked. about you is that you always asked us what’s going on. ‘And that’s how I was trained. Pat Riley would come and during the timeout he would say Coop,’ What what do you see there? What is going on? ‘ Because we are there, but it is outside.

“That’s what coaching is, and she took it, and that’s how she coached her team and, you know, to have the best team and they’re really, really good. But if you have the best player, that helps too, what I’ve had with her, and so it’s painful, but it’s also nice to see.

Leslie’s team, Triplets, led by former NBA All-Star Joe Johnson, is the defending champion and currently sits atop the standings. 3’s Company, meanwhile, sits 9th out of 12 teams and likely won’t qualify for the BIG3 playoffs, which take place at Atlantis Paradise Island in the Bahamas on August 28 and September 4.

Even though this BIG3 season did not go as planned, this year was still a success for Cooper. For the first time, the former Laker was named a finalist in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. He didn’t make the class of 2021, but it’s one more step for the five-time champion, the eight-time all-defense selection and the 1987 defensive player of the year despite being off the bench all season.

“I got very emotional about it,” Cooper says. “This was very, very emotional for me and, you know, I want it now. When you play for a championship and you get close to it, and you finally win one, you want more, and we were able to get five. Well, now that my role has led to the door of the Hall of Fame, I am very, very grateful and blessed. But now that I’m on the doorstep I knock because I feel and think and sometimes I deserve, looking at some of the other people – I never hate anyone – but one day that door is going to open for me . And when it does, it will probably be the highlight of my basketball career.

“Right now the highlight of my career is having one of the greatest players to ever play this game, Larry Bird, say that Michael Cooper was the toughest player against me. It says a lot and of a little guy, a skinny guy that everyone said he could never get, for this guy to say that about me – right now it beats every championship, It beats all of the Defensive Player of the Year awards, which beats all of the first team defensive player awards, ”Cooper continued. “For me, that’s kind of what I put my hat on. But now, if I can walk into the room, and I really believe that someday it’s going to happen … if I can put my jersey, my photo, my bust in there, then job well done, Coop.

Boston Celtics Larry Bird, 1987 NBA Finals

Larry Bird has said former DPOY Michael Cooper is the most difficult player for him to face.
Serial number: X34908 TK6 R2 F16

If Cooper were to enter the Hall of Fame, it would likely secure a place for his No.21 jersey in the Lakers’ rafters as well. Seems like this isn’t something Cooper has considered a lot, since he hasn’t hit the first prerequisite yet.

“Well that would go with everything else, I never thought about it because I think retired jerseys are players who really, really deserve it,” Cooper said. “But if that were to happen I would be speechless about it, it would probably take over me, but if that were to happen, wow, I really don’t know what to say about it.”

Even though his number never hangs at Staples Center – Cooper likes to say his 21 is part of James Worthy’s 42, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s 33, and Magic Johnson’s 32 anyway – Cooper has cemented his place in the Lakers tradition, just like he did. for the Los Angeles Sparks. It’s a full career in and of itself, and yet Cooper is still here, pursuing more coaching goals.

He jokes that he feels like dressing up when he sees his BIG3 players not covering stars like Joe Johnson, and he wants to show them how it’s done, even at 65. But realistically, he’s focusing on his AAU program called Two One Elite and keeping his ear open for coaching jobs East Los Angeles so he can stay with his wife and teenage son.

Whether it’s another year in a BIG3 or going back to college or high school, Cooper just can’t see himself away from the game. As he puts it, “I’m enjoying my life in this state, but basketball -ball will always be a part of it. “

For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on itunes, Spotify, Stapler Where Google Podcasts. You can follow Sabreena on Twitter at @sabreenajm.

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