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Thursday, September 2, 1999
No MVP, but Cooper still super

By Michelle Smith
Special to

All hail newly crowned WNBA MVP Yolanda Griffith, who proved just how valuable she was to the Sacramento Monarchs when her injury-induced absence caused Sacramento to lose its final four games, including a playoff defeat to the Los Angeles Sparks.

For the first time in the league's three-year history, the trophy will not have Cynthia Cooper engraved on it. But if there was an award for Most Inspirational Player, it would go have to go to Cooper, hands down.

Cooper won the league's scoring title for the third consecutive season. She will end up as the leading scorer in the postseason. Her team, with her at the helm, may very well be on the way to its third consecutive league title.

But no eye-popping statistics can do justice or take into account the courage and heart that Coop showed this season, words that sound cliche until you see them in the flesh.

Her mother, Mary Cobb, lost her battle with breast cancer and died before the season began. Cooper has continued to raise a large group of her nieces and nephews in her own home. And then came the death of close friend and teammate Kim Perrot just two weeks ago.

Through one burden after another, Cooper has carried herself to the court every day -- and carried her team. On the night after Perrot was put on life support in a Houston hospital, Cooper went out and scored 42 points against Utah and then walked off the court, sobbing, into the arms of her teammates. The only night she could not play was the day after Perrot's death.

Cooper's teammate, Sheryl Swoopes, had a season that was comparable, if not slightly better overall than the year that Cooper had this year. In fact, it was Swoopes who finished second in MVP balloting.

Despite the championships and MVP awards, it hasn't always been smooth sailing for Cooper. She has, at times, seemed a bit too preoccupied with the amount of "respect" she gets when it comes to endorsements and commercial opportunities. And last season she was unnecessarily open about the strife that was taking place in the Comets' lockerroom between herself and Swoopes.

But the fact that Cooper had much deeper worries this season and still managed to play at the highest level does things for her legacy that a dozen Nike ads never could.

This season she was a wonder to behold and a person that had to be admired. There should be an award for that.

Around the WNBA

  • Detroit has not yet picked up the third-year option on the contract of head coach and general manager Nancy Lieberman-Cline, and apparently the hold up lies with the coach. It has been reported that Lieberman-Cline isn't sure she wants to return. She has apparently deflected efforts to extend her deal and told the "Dallas Morning News" earlier this month that "every day is another headache."

    She also said she can't guarantee that she will be coaching two years from now. It was a difficult year for Lieberman-Cline, who was booed by fans and criticized by former players after the trade that sent Korie Hlede and Cindy Brown to Utah. Her team struggled most of the season and barely won a playoff spot before being ousted by Charlotte in the first round....

  • Michael Cooper, the former Los Angeles Laker and current Los Angeles Sparks assistant, has been mentioned as a possible candidate for the head-coaching opening in Miami....

  • Lifetime analyst Mary Murphy reported that Tennessee assistant Mickie DeMoss has been offered the interim coaching job in Indianapolis, which will go to U.S. National Team coach Nell Fortner in the 2001 season. But DeMoss hasn't yet accepted or rejected the job offer....

  • Detroit leading scorer Sandy Brondello told the Detroit News that she has only a 50/50 chance of returning to the Shock next season. Brondello, as well as Australian teammate Carla Porter, might instead choose to stay home and prepare for the Olympic Games.

    This may turn out to be a common refrain for teams around the league with international stars, which, in combination with expansion and a weak college draft, is going to make rosters even thinner than they already will be....

  • Also unlikely to return to her team next season will be Minnesota's Brandy Reed. Reed, who came to the Lynx via the expansion draft, looked to be a find and was the team's leading scorer at the halfway point. But a falling out with coach Brian Agler over team rules, and eventually attitude, cause Agler to sit Reed for the final six games of the season....

  • A Houston television station held a pledge drive and raised more than $200,000 for Kim's Place, a recreational facility for children with life-threatening illnesses started by and now in memory of Kim Perrot.

    Michelle Smith, a freelance writer in the Bay Area, is a regular contributor to