Day 14: Cynthia Cooper

When the WNBA launched in 1997, I knew all the best American players. They were the members of the 1996 Olympic Team that had just won the gold medal. At least that is who the WNBA marketed, players like Lisa Leslie, Sheryl Swoopes, and Rebecca Lobo. 

And then here comes #14, Cynthia Cooper, scoring 22 points, 4.7 assists, and 2.1 steals/game to win the MVP and lead the Houston Comets to the first WNBA Championship. At the age of 34, Cooper came into the WNBA as a relative unknown to casual fans and dominated, winning 2 MVPS, and leading the Comets to four straight WNBA Championships, each time winning Finals MVP. Talk about malchut, or sovereignty. Cooper came into the league, took the crown, and her reign did not end until she retired in 2000 at the age of 37. 

But on this day of malchut sheb’gevurah, it’s the way that Cooper’s domination came from a place of inner strength that makes her the choice for Day 14. If you have access to HBO, check out the new documentary, Women of Troy, about the USC Women’s basketball teams of the HBO.

[Warning: Spoilers ahead]

The documentary focuses primarily on Cheryl Miller, who many acknowledge as the greatest women’s basketball player ever, even though she never played a competitive game after college. Miller was a teen phenom, who came to USC and led the Trojans to two NCAA Championships. Then, as a rising junior, she lead the US Women’s basketball team to gold at the 1984 Olympics. She was the star of the USC team and the woman who everyone expected to go down as the GOAT, before a torn ACL at the end of her senior year, ended her basketball career.

Cooper entered USC the same year as Miller, but she wasn’t even the second best player on the team, which also featured All-Americans in Pam and Paula McGee. That Cynthia Cooper would become the face of the WNBA and one of its greatest players ever, only happened because Cooper was strong enough to survive and persevere. 

She survived growing up in one of America’s neighborhoods, the Watts section of Los Angeles. When her brother was stabbed and killed after her freshman year, she almost quit, but found the strength to keep going. Overcoming adversity, made her tougher. It’s that gevurah that led to malchut.

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