ALBUQUERQUE, N.M., Aug. 9 - Michael Cooper, 12-year NBA veteran, five-time NBA champion and former University of New Mexico star player, has been named head coach of the NBA Development League team in Albuquerque (N.M.), it was announced today by Southwest Basketball, LLC owner David Kahn.
“We are honored to have Michael Cooper, one of the leading figures in New Mexico sports history, as our first head coach,” said Kahn. “Michael’s record as a player and as a WNBA coach speaks volumes of his ability to lead our team.”
“I couldn’t be more excited to have Michael Cooper as our head coach,” said team president Billy Widner. “Michael is a hero to many of us who grew up in Albuquerque because of the way he played the game. He is a perfect symbol of how we want our team to play, with relentless defensive pressure and a winning attitude.”
Cooper not only brings extensive playing experience to the team but also valuable NBA and WNBA coaching knowledge to the D-League. Following his playing career, he served as Special Assistant to Lakers general manager Jerry West for three years before joining the Lakers coaching staff in March 1994 under Magic Johnson and later with Del Harris (1994-97). He takes over the basketball operations responsibilities for the Albuquerque team after serving as an assistant coach for the Denver Nuggets (2004-05), including a stint as interim head coach in 2004.
Prior to the Nuggets, Cooper had a stellar head coaching run with the WNBA’s Los Angeles Sparks. In four-plus seasons, Cooper guided the Sparks to a 116-31 (.789) regular season record and four playoff appearances. His team captured back-to-back WNBA Championships in 2001 and 2002 and made the Finals three consecutive years.
After joining the Sparks as an assistant coach in 1999, Cooper was named head coach in November of that same year. In his first year as head coach, he earned the 2000 WNBA Coach of the Year award after leading the Sparks to their best record in franchise history (28-4).
Cooper played two seasons with the University of New Mexico Lobos (1976-78) and was selected to the Lobo Hall of Honor in 1992. A junior college transfer, Cooper was named to the first team All-Western Athletic Conference and aided the Lobos to the conference title as a senior, averaging 16.3 points, 5.7 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game.
Drafted out of New Mexico by the Los Angeles Lakers in the third round (60th overall), “Coop” became an integral part of the “Showtime” Lakers teams of the 1980s with his great defensive talents. He earned eight NBA All Defensive Team selections – including five First Team honors – and was named NBA Defensive Player of the Year in 1987. He spent his entire career with the Los Angeles Lakers and was a member of five NBA Championship teams (1980, ’82, ’85, ’87, and ’88).
In addition to being a success on the court, Cooper was recognized for his community efforts off the court. During the 1985-86 season, Cooper, along with New York’s Rory Sparrow, was selected by the Pro Basketball Writer’s Association as the annual recipients of the J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award. The Award, presented annually since 1975, is the oldest citizenship and community service award in the NBA and is named for the second commissioner of the league. The award honors an NBA player or coach for outstanding service and dedication to the community.
Retiring after the 1989-90 season, he was ranked among the club’s career top 10 in three-point field goals (428), games played (873), minutes played (23,635), steals (1,033), blocked shots (523), assists (3,666), defensive rebounds (2,028), offensive rebounds (741) and free throw percentage (.833).
The NBA Development League includes the Fayetteville Patriots (N.C.), Florida Flame (Ft. Myers), Roanoke Dazzle (Va.), Arkansas RimRockers (Little Rock), Tulsa 66ers (Okla.), as well as teams in Albuquerque (N.M.), Austin (Texas) and Fort Worth (Texas).
The D-League offers players the opportunity to develop their talent in a highly competitive atmosphere under the NBA’s umbrella. Thirty-four (34) players have been called up to the NBA on 50 separate occasions. Ten (10) former D-League coaches, five athletic trainers, 11 referees and 29 front office executives have also been called up since the start of the league’s inaugural season in November 2001.
Designed to help grow the sport of basketball both domestically and internationally, the league also offers fun, family entertainment at affordable prices. The D-League is a source of on-court talent for the NBA’s 30 teams and is a diverse human resources pool for the NBA and its teams by training employees in management, operations, public relations, sales and marketing positions.