Cooper back with Sparks after 3-year hiatus

Updated: April 8, 2007, 9:37 PM ET
Associated Press

LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Sparks fired head coach Joe "Jellybean'' Bryant on Wednesday and replaced him with former coach Michael Cooper, who led the team to WNBA titles in 2001 and 2002.

"We are delighted to have Michael coming back to a place where he has enjoyed so much success,'' Sparks' co-owner Carla Christofferson said in a statement. Christofferson and Kathy Goodman bought the Sparks in December.

Bryant, the father of Lakers star Kobe Bryant, led the Sparks to a 25-9 record and a trip to the conference finals last season, where they lost to the Sacramento Monarchs, the same team that had eliminated them during the first rounds of the 2004 and 2005 playoffs. He had one year left on his contract.

He was hired as an assistant to his former Philadelphia 76ers teammate Henry Bibby in July of 2005, then took over when Bibby resigned with five games left in the season after just 28 days on the job. He went 29-10 overall.

Bryant will continue coaching the Tokyo Apache of the Japanese BJ league, his job in the WNBA offseason.

The 50-year-old Cooper, a 12-year NBA veteran who won five NBA titles with the Lakers, coached the Sparks from 1999 until 2004, going 116-31. In 2000 he led the Sparks to the best season (28-4) in the franchise's short history and was the WNBA coach of the year. He followed that with back-to-back titles in 2001 and 2002.

He was signed to a one-year deal with options. The team did not release the specific terms.

"I am thrilled to be returning home and to have the opportunity to coach a team that provides me with so many fond memories,'' Cooper said in a statement. "The franchise is starting a new chapter and we want to bring another championship banner to Staples Center.''

Hired as an assistant for the Denver Nuggets before the 2004 season, Cooper served as interim head coach for a month before returning to an assistant job when George Karl was hired in January of 2005.

He has been coaching the Albuquerque Thunderbirds, a team he led to an NBA Developmental League title last year. Officials of the Albuquerque team said Wednesday that Cooper will remain a minority owner and will coach the Thunderbirds through the remainder of the regular season and in the playoffs if they qualify.

The Sparks season begins with a game at Chicago on May 22.

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press