Cooper: "WNBA Is Alive And Well"

Alex Conover
Web Editorial Associate


On an afternoon celebrating female athletic progress since Title IX, one of the WNBA’s original pioneers came away impressed by what she saw from the defending champions and their hometown fans.

Cynthia Cooper, a founding player of the WNBA and four-time league champion, was a guest at Saturday’s home game. As the Lynx faced the Chicago Sky on the 40th anniversary of Title IX passing into law, Cooper soaked in the Target Center’s electric atmosphere.

“To be in the Target Center with the world champion Lynx is awesome,” said Cooper at halftime. “The atmosphere, the energy here is incredible. As someone who’s retired from the game, it’s great to see that the WNBA is alive and well.”

Cooper was the WNBA’s first league MVP in 1997 as her Houston Comets captured the inaugural championship. The squad went on to win the next three titles as well, dominating the WNBA with their own “Big Three”: Cooper, Sheryl Swoopes and Tina Thompson.

Joining the young league at age 33 (she had spent the previous decade playing overseas) led to a shortened but prolific career. Cooper led the WNBA in scoring for the first three seasons, but she contests that she could have had a bigger impact had the league been established earlier.

“I really thought that the WNBA would pass me by,” said Cooper with a smile. “I thought I would retire overseas and that would be it. I longed to play in front of the American fans as well as family, friends and old college buddies. I started at 33 — I wish I were 23 — but it was a great time. Cynthia Cooper at age 23 was much different than age 33.”

Cynthia Cooper Talks WNBA

Since her playing days, Cooper has become involved in collegiate coaching. After head coaching stints at Prairie View A&M and UNC-Wilmington (earning CAA Coach of the Year honors in 2010), she assumed her current position at Texas Southern earlier this year. Her reputation tends to precede her, as her players recognize her name and occasionally challenge her at practice.

“Most of them Google me, and they see what I was capable of doing, and they challenge me,” Cooper said. “I’m only good for about five minutes and five points… but those are a heck of a five points.

“They ask me how did I do it, and I’m glad to pass on that knowledge and energy that I had as a player. I want them to have it.”

For a WNBA legend like Cooper, she can’t help but feel a sense of pride in how far the league has come. As she watched the game’s young stars perform, she marveled at the progress that women have made in American professional basketball.

“I do feel a little pride to say, ‘Hey, we made the WNBA popular,’” said Cooper. “We were the first dynasty in the league. It makes me feel awesome to see players like Maya Moore come out of college ready to perform and give something to her team. Look at Seimone Augustus, a player who has really developed over the years and become an MVP.

“I definitely take pride in knowing that we have players in the WNBA that can get it done, and that can pass the torch to the younger generation.”

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