YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Coopers Run the Fast-Break at Tip-Off of Laker Off-Season

June 18, 1987|LYNN SIMROSS | Times Staff Writer

Michael Cooper could barely whisper--he has had laryngitis since Sunday because he shouted so much when the Lakers took the National Basketball Assn. championship from the Boston Celtics. But when he did speak, Cooper said all he wanted to do was go upstairs and catch a nap before he and his wife, Wanda, went out to another victory party.

"There's just been too much non-stop activity," Wanda Cooper said, sitting on a sofa in the den of their home Tuesday after the morning Laker Day parade downtown and an afternoon rally at the Forum in Inglewood. "I don't mean that in a negative way, but since Sunday there's just too much all at once."

"Too much," in several ways, is how to describe the Lakers' 1986-87 season.

On the plus side: The championship was especially sweet, since it came at the expense of the Lakers' arch rivals, the cocky 1986 champion Boston Celtics, who wanted to be the first NBA team to win back-to-back titles since 1969, when another bunch of Celts did it.

It was the Lakers' fourth NBA title this decade and it came here, at the Forum, before their own loyal fans, not in Boston Garden, where the crowd is theleague's loudest and most hostile. Boston's opponents also have to beat a mystical leprechaun who is said to haunt the place, keeping them from scoring every bit as much as the Celtic team.

In Los Angeles, the crowd was screaming for the Lakers, and the only thing haunting the team was their dismal season last year, when, as 1985 NBA champs over the Celtics, they didn't even make it to the playoffs.

"This was a bigger victory (than 1985) because of the way we started off the season," said guard Michael Cooper, who has played on the Laker championship teams of 1980, 1982, 1985 and 1987. He explained that preseason projections suggested the Lakers wouldn't win any titles this year because they were "too old, too short and over the hill."

In Game 2 of these finals, the 6-foot-7 Cooper set a championship series record by scoring six (of seven) 3-point attempts--shots from at least 22 feet from the basket.

Not bad for a guy who was not supposed to be able to walk without a brace on his left leg after injuring it in an accident when he was 5. It was another five years before he got rid of the brace, four more years before he could even run. When he entered Pasadena High School, his mother, Jean, a registered nurse, said he never would be able to jump off the bad leg.

But Cooper wanted to play basketball, and he did.

"This win was better because it was the Celtics here," he said with a grin.

The Long Season

On the minus side: The Lakers would have liked to have won it in four straight games, especially after stomping Boston in the two opening games in Los Angeles. But they had to play in Boston, where they lost two and won one, adding to the length of an already long season.

The Lakers' 1986-87 season was 100 games long, lasting from October through mid-June. The six-game series against the Celtics was particularly grueling after running up and down courts in cities all over the country in 94 previous games.

"Sure, it was long and tiring," Cooper said of the season. "But that's the price you pay for winning it. If you don't, the season ends in April."

The Laker season ended Sunday all right, but the partying has yet to stop.

They started out with a team celebration Sunday night at a private club on Sunset Boulevard that Wanda Cooper described as "crazy fun, screaming and shouting and dancing."

"We partied like we were back in high school," she said. "All this screaming, everybody chanting. It was all adults; the kids stayed home. There were all these fingers in the air. No. 1! No. 1! People were going, 'Don't call me this, call me Champ.' Michael was saying it. 'Don't call me Coop, call me Champ. Champ Coop.' "

Wanda Cooper, who calls her husband Babe, not Coop as the fans do, said that they didn't leave the party until about 1:30 a.m. "Everybody was so high, shouting and cheering, we just didn't get tired. And everybody was dancing. Magic (Johnson, the series' Most Valuable Player) didn't leave one corner of the dance floor all evening. I danced to the bathroom and back to the floor."

Monday was supposed to be a day of rest, she said. "We just stayed at home with the family, just collecting ourselves, but the phone rang constantly, mostly people calling to congratulate Michael, so we didn't get a lot of rest."

Company and Entertaining

Wanda Cooper's parents, William and Mary Juzang, were visiting from their home in Albuquerque, so the Coopers and Juzangs decided to go out for a quiet dinner, along with the Coopers' two children, Michael II, 6, and Simone, 4.

"Mike's not a Jr.," Wanda Cooper said of her son. "Neither Michael or I can stand Junior . Mostly, we call him Little Mike or Scoop.

Los Angeles Times Articles