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Cooper back with Sparks after 3-year hiatus

LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Sparks fired head coach Joe
"Jellybean'' Bryant on Wednesday and replaced him with former
coach Michael Cooper, who led the team to WNBA titles in 2001 and
2002.

"We are delighted to have Michael coming back to a place where
he has enjoyed so much success,'' Sparks' co-owner Carla
Christofferson said in a statement. Christofferson and Kathy
Goodman bought the Sparks in December.

Bryant, the father of Lakers star Kobe Bryant, led the Sparks to
a 25-9 record and a trip to the conference finals last season,
where they lost to the Sacramento Monarchs, the same team that had
eliminated them during the first rounds of the 2004 and 2005
playoffs. He had one year left on his contract.

He was hired as an assistant to his former Philadelphia 76ers
teammate Henry Bibby in July of 2005, then took over when Bibby
resigned with five games left in the season after just 28 days on
the job. He went 29-10 overall.

Bryant will continue coaching the Tokyo Apache of the Japanese
BJ league, his job in the WNBA offseason.

The 50-year-old Cooper, a 12-year NBA veteran who won five NBA
titles with the Lakers, coached the Sparks from 1999 until 2004,
going 116-31. In 2000 he led the Sparks to the best season (28-4)
in the franchise's short history and was the WNBA coach of the
year. He followed that with back-to-back titles in 2001 and 2002.

He was signed to a one-year deal with options. The team did not
release the specific terms.

"I am thrilled to be returning home and to have the opportunity
to coach a team that provides me with so many fond memories,''
Cooper said in a statement. "The franchise is starting a new
chapter and we want to bring another championship banner to Staples
Center.''

Hired as an assistant for the Denver Nuggets before the 2004
season, Cooper served as interim head coach for a month before
returning to an assistant job when George Karl was hired in January
of 2005.

He has been coaching the Albuquerque Thunderbirds, a team he led
to an NBA Developmental League title last year. Officials of the Albuquerque team said Wednesday that Cooper will remain a minority owner and will coach the Thunderbirds through the remainder of the regular season and in the playoffs if they
qualify.

The Sparks season begins with a game at Chicago on May 22.