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Bird Couldn't Shake Cooper : Basketball: Laker defensive specialist was one of the few players who could contain Celtic star.

August 19, 1992|CHRIS BAKER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Former Laker guard Michael Cooper will never forget his defensive duels with Larry Bird.

"Larry and I had some tremendous battles over the years," Cooper said after the Boston Celtics' star announced his retirement Tuesday. "Without a doubt, he was one of the most, if not the most, difficult player for me to defend. In particular, the aspect of his game I admired the most was his willingness to be such a team player, combined with his desire and ability to take control of a game with the outcome in doubt.

"I know this is hard on him, but because of the circumstances, he realized he would be unable to give 100%. And with Larry's competitiveness, I know he would feel like he was cheating the Celtics, his fans and the entire NBA if he were not able to give his best effort."

Bird said Tuesday that Cooper was the best defensive player he ever faced.

Clipper General Manager Elgin Baylor, considered by many as the greatest forward in NBA history, said Bird made a big contribution to the rise of the NBA in recent years.

"Larry Bird was a major contributor to the success the NBA has achieved over the past 13 years," Baylor said. "He was a great player and I enjoyed the way he played the game of basketball. The Celtics will miss Larry Bird, as will NBA fans throughout the world."

Columnist Bob Ryan of the Boston Globe says the arrival of Bird and Magic Johnson in 1979 helped revitalize the NBA.

"Obviously, Bird's and Magic's timing was perfect to help revitalize the NBA," Ryan said. "They came in at a time when the league was not anywhere near as popular as it is today.

"Not only did they help lift the two teams, they provided the league with a very glamorous East-West confrontation. And their style of play and their joint vision and feel for the game drew people in a different way.

"Obviously, Bird would be very blunt to say that he was the Great White Hope who never sought to be, but he never ran away from it either. I think the way he handled it enabled him to remain very admired and popular among the black players, because in the hands of the wrong player that would have been disastrous."

Said Chick Hearn: "I think the foundation was there, but I think Bird and Magic provided a new form of competition between the two best-known teams in basketball at the time, the Celtics and Lakers."

Material from the Associated Press included in this story.

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