ATLANTA – Former New Mexico Lobo and Atlanta Dream coach Michael Cooper has early stage tongue cancer and has taken a leave from the WNBA team.
He will have surgery this week at Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University in Atlanta and a full recovery is expected, the Dream said Monday.
The 58-year-old coach is expected to miss about two weeks, with assistant coach Karleen Thompson filling in. Atlanta plays at Minnesota today.
“I’m fortunate that my condition was diagnosed early, and this episode illustrates the importance of screening and early detection,” Cooper said. “I know the team will be in good hands with coach Thompson at the helm during my absence, and I look forward to returning to the court soon.”
Cooper played at New Mexico from 1976-78, leading the Lobos to the WAC title in 1978. He averaged 16.3 points, 5.7 rebounds and 4.2 assists a game.
Cooper was a third-round draft pick of the Los Angeles Lakers in 1978. He was named the NBA Defensive Player of the Year following the 1986-87 season.
Cooper won five NBA titles as a shooting guard – and famed defensive stopper – with the Lakers during the “Showtime” era from 1978-90. As a coach, he won two WNBA titles with the Los Angeles Sparks and one NBA Development League championships with Albuquerque.
After his second run with the Sparks, Cooper was hired as the women’s coach at Southern California.
But he resigned in March following an 11-20 season, his first losing mark in four seasons.
Cooper is in his first season with Atlanta. His team leads the Eastern Conference with a 15-6 record. He coached the East to a 125-124 overtime victory at the WNBA All-Star game Saturday.