One of the best players in WNBA history is coming back.
Cynthia Cooper, who played on four league championship teams in Houston, announced Tuesday that she was ending her retirement and returning to the Comets.
Even though she last played in 2000 and spent an unfulfilling year and a half coaching the Phoenix Mercury, Cooper, 40, is expected to make the Comets a threat to end the two-year title reign of the Sparks.
During a packed news conference at the Comets’ practice facility in Houston, Cooper said she understood that the road to winning the WNBA title went through Los Angeles.
“Right now, L.A. is the team to beat,” Cooper said. “I definitely come back hoping my return can help the Comets win another championship.
“But I don’t come back to be the one missing piece of the puzzle. I come back to join a great team already.”
Cooper’s spectacular basketball career had its roots in California.
She played on two NCAA championship teams at USC, in 1982-83 and ’83-'84.
As a U.S. Olympic team member, Cooper won a gold medal in 1988 and a bronze in 1992.
Before joining Houston in the WNBA’s inaugural 1997 season, Cooper played 11 years professionally in Spain and Italy. With the Comets, Cooper was a four time All-WNBA first-team selection and played in the league’s first two All-Star games, in 1999 and 2000.
She won two regular-season most-valuable-player awards and four playoff MVP awards. She left the game as the league’s leading scorer with 2,537 points but quickly was passed by the Sparks’ Lisa Leslie.
The desire to play never completely left, however, after Cooper abruptly resigned as the Phoenix coach last June 26.
Last July, while working at a basketball camp in the Virgin Islands, Cooper started playing in some pickup games with a couple of NBA players against local youths.
“God, it was the best fun I ever had, or I had had in a long time, playing basketball,” Cooper said. “I think that’s what sparked the interest to return, that’s what gave me back the passion [to return]. At that moment, I did miss playing basketball.”