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Still rivals after all these years

Cooper and Laimbeer have gone from Lakers-Pistons to Sparks-Shock, and still don't mind exchanging some friendly insults.

June 11, 2008|Dan Arritt | Times Staff Writer

Detroit Shock Coach Bill Laimbeer was describing the similarities in style between his WNBA team and the Detroit Pistons, where he bumped, banged and scowled for 14 seasons.

He then made comparisons between the Sparks and the Lakers teams of the 1980s, when Sparks Coach Michael Cooper made a name for himself as a feisty Lakers veteran.

"Both Coop and I are creating teams that are our own likeness in some ways," Laimbeer said, hours ahead of Tuesday's Game 3 of the NBA Finals between the Lakers and the Boston Celtics. "He tries to create that flashy, Los Angeles . . . "

Said Cooper: "Showtime, Bill, it's called Showtime."

Laimbeer kept on, " . . . that hyper-Showtime garbage, and we're more blue-collared, hard-nosed, physical, defensive . . . "

Once again, Cooper couldn't bite his tongue: "That's called dirty ball. Thug ball."

And so it went as the two WNBA coaches talked basketball, a back-and-forth that was part tongue-in-cheek, but also had the smell of years-old NBA bad blood.

Detroit is in town to play the Sparks tonight at Staples Center and Laimbeer and Cooper don't mind getting together for a little one-on-one verbal exchange.

The colorful pair appeared side by side Tuesday night on the Lakers postgame show on ABC, where they got in a few more verbal jabs.

"We don't get along, we coexist because we have to," Cooper said after Laimbeer exited the speaker phone.

"It's like a love-hate relationship. I hate the guy because, on the Lakers, we were on our way to a three-peat and it was the Detroit Pistons that stopped it, then we're on our way to a three-peat in the WNBA and the Shock stopped it."

The latest streak-buster came in 2003. The Shock won the WNBA championship again in 2006. This season, the Sparks were preseason favorites to win it all, but Laimbeer sounded confident that Detroit will be knocking on the door come playoff time. After all, he expects his players to adopt his never-surrender attitude.

"I hope my teams take on my personality," Laimbeer said. "My personality is, we're going to win the basketball game no matter what. We're going to win the championship no matter what, that's all we care about . . . they go out there with the intensity and no minutes off, no seconds off."

The Shock are off to a 7-2 start, a half-game behind first-place Connecticut in the Eastern Conference. The Sparks are 4-2 and 1 1/2 games behind first-place Minnesota in the West.

"What we try to do is bring the true professionalism to the women's game," Cooper said. "I think it has always been there, but I think with us bringing in our expertise and our knowledge and some of the things we did as players, we're helping our players and our particular team grow, and I think that's setting a high standard."

Both men also point to the similarities between the NBA's growth of the early '80s, and what the WNBA is experiencing in terms of the rise in popularity and the expanded competition for roster spots.

"The competition for jobs was intense and it made players really focus on their craft," Laimbeer said of his early years in the NBA.

"It made the on-court competition, in practice and the games, intense."

The league also is reaping the benefits of a rookie class led by the Sparks' Candace Parker, the only WNBA player ranked in the top 10 in scoring average, rebounding and assists. Players like Parker now bring a built-in audience with them, having starred in college and the NCAA Final Four.

"When cable television started to expand to [men's] college basketball, the name recognition drove the NBA to new heights," Laimbeer said. "We're seeing the same thing with the explosion of television in women's college basketball."

With that, he asked Cooper if he would be wearing a coat and tie on the post-game show. Cooper said he was. "But you can come casual," he told Laimbeer. "Just don't wear a T-shirt with a coffee stain on it."

TONIGHT

vs. Detroit, 7:30

Site -- Staples Center.

Radio -- 1150.

Records -- Sparks 4-2; Shock 7-2.

Record vs. Shock (2007) -- 0-2.

Update -- The Sparks have the league's top two rebounders in Parker (11.2 per game) and Lisa Leslie (10.5), but they were nowhere to be seen down the stretch in Friday night's 85-79 loss to Phoenix. L.A. blew an 18-point, fourth-quarter lead in its home debut and was outrebounded, 17-4, in the final 10 minutes, prompting General Manager Penny Toler to chide the team's effort this season in a 15-minute rebuke after Tuesday's practice. Shock guard Katie Smith scored 33 points last Wednesday in a victory over visiting Seattle, and 30 on Friday in a victory at Sacramento, earning WNBA Eastern Conference player of the week honors.

--

dan.arritt@latimes.com

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