Michael Cooper, the former "Showtime" Lakers forward and coach of two L.A. Sparks championship teams, will return to the WNBA as coach of the Atlanta Dream, the team announced Thursday.
Cooper, who quit last spring after an 11-20 campaign in his fourth season as USC's women's coach, ranks second among WNBA coaches in winning percentage and sixth in victories with a record of 167-85 (.663).
Team owners Mary Brock and Kelly Loeffler released the following statement on the hiring:
"As we look to take the Atlanta Dream to the next level, Michael Cooper brings a caliber of coaching and leadership that is truly unique. His passion for the game, for the WNBA and his focus on player development will be invaluable. We are excited to build on the success of our franchise for our team, our fans and for the city of Atlanta, and are already working toward an exciting 2014 season.”
The Dream have won three Eastern Conference titles in the last four seasons but have yet to win a game in the WNBA championship series. Atlanta fired Fred Williams as coach after losing in the finals to the Minnesota Lynx.
“The team's appearance in the WNBA finals shows they are on the right track,” said Cooper, 57, in a statement. “They've been knocking on the door of a championship, and I know what that felt like in my early years with the Sparks, but now it's time to kick the door in and make it happen.”
Cooper, a forward known for his defensive prowess, won titles with the Lakers in 1980, '82, '85, '87 and '88. He was hired as coach of the Sparks in November 1999 and led the 2000 team to a 28-4 record. The Sparks then won back-to-back titles in 2001-02.
Cooper left the Sparks after the 2004 season to join the Denver Nuggets as an assistant coach. He later led the Albuquerque Thunderbirds to the NBA Development League title in 2006 during a two-year stint as coach.
Cooper returned to the Sparks for the 2007-09 seasons before becoming coach at USC, where he had a record of 72-57.
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