Michael Cooper Rumors
As the Lakers’ longtime roster architect, Jerry West was famously smitten by the predraft workout performance that Bryant, then 17, unleashed against the longtime Lakers defensive standout Michael Cooper, who was an assistant coach by that point. As Harris tells it, Tracy McGrady had an even more impressive audition for the Lakers one year later, prompting West to make a brief but serious push to try to acquire McGrady’s draft rights and team him with O’Neal and Bryant. “I don’t think anybody can look at an 18-year-old and say he’s a Hall of Famer,” Harris said. “You couldn’t even do that with Michael Jordan. And Kobe Bryant was a young 18 in his first season. He was still in a pretty normal teenage body, compared to when LeBron James came in and had a man’s body. “McGrady came in the next year with a more mature body and worked out so well that Jerry kind of tooled around with the idea that maybe we should just go ahead and make a deal for whatever it took to get this guy — even though it’d be a step back in the short term — to have two guys like this on the same team.”
Nick Young will become the third Lakers player to participate in the event after Byron Scott (1987, 1988) and Michael Cooper (1987). Young didn’t miss an opportunity to take a jab at the former Lakers coach, who he frequently clashed with over playing time and public criticisms. “I might pick Cooper’s brain,” Young said of his contest preparation. “But I don’t know if Byron would tell me the right thing to do.”
General manager Mitch Kupchak, for his part, references former teammate Michael Cooper, a 6-foot-5, 170-pound defensive ace during the Lakers’ Showtime era. “Michael competed and was fearless, but he never put on an ounce,” Kupchak says. “Obviously, the kid needs to get stronger, and he will, but the important thing is that [Ingram] is fearless and he competes.” The Lakers are not only patient but want to protect Ingram to the point of declining interview requests with their nutritionist and strength and conditioning coach in part because they see no upside to further stories about his weight. “It’s going to happen,” Kupchak says. “Naturally.”
Upon being drafted, the Jheri-curled Green, 21, was thrown to the wolves. And his randy teammates did whatever they could to tempt him. “We’d say, ‘A.C., come on, go out with us,’ and he’d say, ‘No, I won’t go out with you guys but I’ll pray for you guys,’” says a chuckling Michael Cooper, Green’s teammate, in the film. “We joked about how long it would last before he had sex,” adds teammate James Worthy. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar remembers how Green would carry a Bible around with him at all times.
Cooper did not think much of the workout entering the gym. West had requested it, telling Cooper that he wanted to see how a high school kid named Kobe would fare against him. Cooper learned that Bryant was actually Joe Bryant’s son only a couple of hours before squaring off against him. Cooper and Joe Bryant had matched up before in games. “I almost had a flashback,” Cooper said. “Now, if I would have done that, it would have been a different thing.” He arrived at a dark gym, almost gloomy. No matter. Bryant lit Cooper up. They spent nearly the whole session playing one-on-one. Cooper played defense the bulk of the time. He tried using his physicality over Bryant. Bryant scored at will. He unleashed a full repertoire of fadeaway jump shots and drives to the baskets with reverse layups and dunks.
Still, Cooper said it’s difficult to assess Scott’s job performance “because I’ve known him so long.” “For the people that are criticizing him, shame on you,” Cooper said. “But it comes with that territory. You look at the players, they’re young and this and that. But after a while you have to start looking at the coach. That’s usually what happens.”