Two WNBA titles part of Cooper's legacy

Updated: July 7, 2004, 1:49 AM ET
Associated Press

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Michael Cooper, who coached the Los Angeles Sparks to two WNBA championships, is leaving to become an assistant coach with the NBA's Denver Nuggets.

Nuggets spokesman Eric Sebastian confirmed Tuesday that Cooper, a former standout player and assistant coach with the Los Angeles Lakers, will fill one of two vacancies on the coaching staff. T.R. Dunn left to join the Sacramento Kings and John MacLeod resigned to check out head-coaching opportunities.

Cooper, who also starred at New Mexico and lived for a time in Corrales, N.M., will coach the Sparks in their three games this week before leaving the job in the hands of assistants Karleen Thompson and Ryan Weisenberg.

"The success we've had with the Sparks has led to this opportunity," Cooper said. "This is a great opportunity for me. The timing is just right. To come back [to the NBA] is very gratifying for me."

Cooper played for the Lakers for 11 seasons before retiring in 1990 and was a member of five NBA championship teams. He joined the Sparks as an assistant coach in 1999 and took over as head coach the next season.

The Sparks are 11-6 this season and 116-31 overall under Cooper. They won championships in 2001-2002 and lost to Detroit in the WNBA Finals last year.

"It's tough -- very, very tough. I leave with sad, sad feelings," he said. "I believe in timing in my life. Everything happens for a reason. I'm just looking forward to the challenge of working with the Denver Nuggets."

Nuggets GM Kiki Vandeweghe said Coper is a perfect fit.

"We're overjoyed to be able to add someone of Michael's stature to our coaching staff." Vandeweghe said. "He was a hard-nosed defender as a player and he has won championships everywhere he has been."

Cooper said he hoped to become an NBA head coach someday.

"I have really mixed emotions," Sparks star Lisa Leslie said. "I'm really excited for coach Cooper. It's a great opportunity for him. He's very knowledgeable about the game. He can truly help a player take it to the next level as he has with me.

"Everything he's brought to us will truly be missed. I think off the court is where he'll be even more missed."

Nikki Teasley, in her third season with the Sparks, was in tears upon hearing the news.

"He's more than just a coach to all the women, he's a father figure to many of us," she said. "He made me the player I am today. I'm happy for him, but sad for the team and myself.

"He's the best coach I've ever played for -- he's taught me so much. He deserves a chance to be an NBA coach."


Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press