PORTLAND, OR - 1986: Wayne Cooper #42 of the Denver Nuggets looks on against the Portland Trail Blazers during a game played circa 1986 at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Portland, Oregon.
Brian Drake/NBAE via Getty Images

We Love the (Nuggets) 80s: Wayne Cooper

by Christopher Dempsey
Nuggets Insider
@chrisadempsey

Before there was Dikembe Mutombo, there was Wayne Cooper. Before there was Marcus Camby or Chris “Birdman” Andersen, there was Wayne Cooper.

Cooper was the original Nuggets rim protector.

And he never swatted more shots in any one season than he did in the 1985-86 when he turned away 227 for a Nuggets team that, yes, played up-tempo basketball, but also put a premium on defense. If ball-handlers were able to get into the paint and to the rim, they had to deal with Cooper.

And those encounters generally didn’t go well for the offensive player.

Cooper’s 830 blocks with the Nuggets is third on the team’s all-time list. When he left the Nuggets to sign with the Portland Trail Blazers in 1989, he did so as the franchise’s leader in blocked shots. Only Mutombo and Camby have tallied more blocks with the Nuggets since then.

Originally drafted by the Golden State Warriors in 1978, Cooper landed with the Nuggets when he was traded to the team along with Fat Lever and Calvin Natt in 1984. He quickly paid dividends with averages of 12.1 points, 7.9 rebounds and 2.5 blocks for a Nuggets team that season. Cooper blocked 36 shots in the Nuggets’ three-round playoff run all the way to the Western Conference Finals.

In five seasons with the Nuggets, Cooper averaged 9.5 points, 7.4 rebounds and 2.4 blocks.

He retired after the 1992 season and moved into the Trail Blazers front office for two years before joining the Sacramento Kings in 1994 as an assistant coach and director of basketball services. In 1996, Cooper was promoted to Sacramento's Vice President of Basketball Operations, a position he held until June of 2013.

Cooper was named to the University of New Orleans Hall of Fame in 1988 and to the Louisiana Association of Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame in 1992. In 1995, he was selected to the Sun Belt Conference's All-Time Men's Basketball Team.

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