Super Cooper

A profile of basketball player Cynthia Cooper.
Wed December 31, 1969 6:00 am

• A pair of national titles in college.
• An Olympic gold medal.
• Nine scoring titles.
• A professional world championship.
• League Most Valuable Player.

And there’s another title the 5’10” Comet guard holds that none of the NBA stars can match: proud mother of Tyquon, her four-year-old son. She’s a regular working mom who just happens to be one of the best professional basketball players in the world.

Cooper, 35, joined the Comets last year in the debut season of the Women’s National Basketball Association. After playing overseas for a decade, Cooper returned to America where she became the league’s best player. She played in Europe for so long because there hadn’t previously been a domestic women’s professional league. That changed in 1996, when not one, but two leagues, the WNBA and the American Basketball League ( ABL), were formed.

Starting off virtually unknown in the WNBA, Cooper slowly rose to domination and led her Houston Comets to their first championship title. It was a dream come true last August for Cooper to experience the thrill of playing in front of over 16,000 fans in a sold-out Compaq Center with the WNBA championship at stake. And the win was especially poignant for Cooper since the person she admires most—her mother Mary Cobb—was in the stands for one of the first times since battling breast cancer. Winning the game and leaving with her MVP title was almost secondary to the joy she felt at her mother’s presence. “This kind of takes it all away from her, and she gets a chance to concentrate on something good and positive, and it means the world to me that she can come and see me play and be successful.”

This year the Comets have started the season undefeated, and with star forward Sheryl Swoopes back in the game after giving birth to a son, the role Cooper established last year may be changing. But after initial rumors of possible tension between the two players, it’s looking like they’re functioning just fine as a team. Cooper isn’t about to let anything get in the way of playing the game she loves, and the chance at leading her team to another Championship victory.

Cynthia Cooper was born in Chicago and grew up there and in Los Angeles. She didn’t start playing basketball until the age of sixteen.At the University of Southern California, where she majored in physical education, she helped the Lady Trojans win national championships in 1983 and 1984, and made three NCAA Final Four appearances during her college career. She was also named to the 1986 NCAA Final Four All-Tournament Team the year she graduated.

Before the WNBA, a graduating college player had two choices: either give up the sport altogether, or continue play overseas in the long-established Women’s European League. Each country has its own set of teams, and the champion of the regular season goes on to compete in a Europe-wide post-season tournament. Cooper began her impressive international career in 1986 by playing in Segovia, Spain. She then played for ten years in Italy, and as a result, is fluent in Italian. From 1987-94 she played for Parma, moving over to Alcamo from 1994-6. For the 1996-7 season she returned to Parma before joining the Comets in 1997. She led the league in scoring for eight of the ten seasons she played in Europe and won a host of awards. Cooper averaged an incredible 37.5 points per game, the highest tournament average, during the 1996 European Cup, and was named MVP of the 1987 European All-Star game. Although Cooper had not played a lot of basketball in America, she represented her country in international competition often. In 1988 and in 1992 she was a member of the United States Olympic basketball teams. As a result, she holds a bronze medal from the ‘92 Games and a gold medal from the ‘88 Games. She has also been a member of U.S. teams in the Goodwill Games (1986 and 1990), the World Championships (1986 and 1990), and the Pan-Am Games (1990).

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Playing in Europe may have been difficult from a personal standpoint, but the years of experience did great things for Cooper’s game. She now possesses a complete all-around talent that makes her almost impossible to stop. Last year Cooper accomplished the difficult task of leading the league in scoring (22.2 points per game), while also carrying her team in assists (4.7 per game). And she averaged four rebounds a game for good measure. “Playing in Europe definitely helped prepare me for the WNBA,” says Cooper, who contends that the WNBA is more physical than the European League. Maybe that is due in part to the fact that the WNBA is mostly a young women’s league: there aren’t many players Cooper’s age who have stuck it out long enough to be able to take advantage of it; most gave up the dream and got on with their lives. But Cooper’s versatility and perseverance paid off in the end, and she was able to realize her dream of playing women’s basketball on home turf.

While she is serious about her playing career, there’s no denying the challenge of raising her son Tyquon.In addition, Cooper has taken on the responsibility, along with her mother, of helping bring up her six nieces and nephews. It certainly brings a fresh perspective to the world of professional sports, and these dual roles provide unique challenges for Cooper, who is proving she has the desire and the ability to meet them all.

If it’s not enough that Cooper functions as a model player and a model mother, she has also become a role model for young female sports fans. “I am definitely a role model, and I don’t take that responsibility lightly. I am only a star player because people make me one. It is very important for us to be positive role models to the girls who dream of being professional basketball players,” she says. One way this

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