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Michael Cooper spent much of his NBA career locking up the opposition’s best player. The former Los Angeles Lakers guard was assigned to guard the league’s toughest players, including Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, and George Gervin.

Cooper’s Lakers and Bird’s Celtics were bitter rivals during the 1980s. Every year in the decade, either the Celtics or Lakers reached the NBA Finals. In 1984, 1985, and 1987, they squared off against each other. While Cooper and Bird had some intense matchups, they didn’t compare to the “nightmare” game he suffered through on May 10, 1987.

Michael Cooper and the Lakers had a nightmare series in the 1984 NBA Finals against the Boston Celtics

Michael Cooper of the Los Angeles Lakers listens to instructions from head coach Pat Riley during the NBA Pacific Division basketball game against the Golden State Warriors on Jan. 15, 1987, at The Forum arena in Inglewood, Los Angeles, California. | Rick Stewart/Allsport/Getty Images.

The Celtics and Lakers gave each other nightmares throughout the 1980s. The first of those came when the teams squared off against each other in the championship round in 1984.

The Celtics held homecourt advantage, but it was short-lived as LA came to Boston and stole it away with a 115-109 victory. The Lakers nearly made it two straight wins, but an errant pass by James Worthy was picked off by Gerald Henderson in the waning seconds to send the game into overtime. Boston pulled out an improbable 124-121 victory.

The Lakers dominated Game 3 at home, winning 137-104. They led 76-70 in Game 4 before Boston’s Kevin McHale clotheslined Kurt Rambis, who was driving in for a layup. After the benches cleared and order was restored, the momentum shift favored Boston. The Celtics went on to win another overtime game, tying the series at two games apiece.

LA dominated much of the series but had little to show for it as the series headed back to Boston for Game 5. The Celtics went on to win the series in seven games, leaving the Lakers with a bitter taste in their mouth.

“The 1984 is a championship loss that to this day, Robert, sticks with me, and it just eats at me,” Cooper told former Celtics center Robert Parish on Cooper’s Showtime With Coop podcast last year. “It really does.”

Cooper’s biggest ‘nightmare’ game came aginst the Golden State Warriors in the 1987 playoffs

While Bird and the Celtics provided Cooper with a fair share of nightmares, nothing compared to Cooper’s matchup with Eric “Sleepy” Floyd in Game 4 of the Western Conference Semifinals in 1987.

Although the Lakers had the series well in hand, leading 3-0, Game 4 was difficult for both Cooper and the Lakers.

“That’s my nightmare game,” Cooper said on The Rick Barry Show. “It always haunts me. That’s the game that the basketball gods taught us about respect for your opponents.

“We were pretty good, but we got too full of ourselves. There were some instances with myself, Byron Scott, and Magic Johnson — and I’m very shameful to say this — but we were disrespecting Purvis Short, Sleepy Floyd. Instead of playing your game and showing respect to your opponent, we got disrespectful, and that’s what happened.

In that game, Floyd went for 51 points as the Warriors won 129-121. He also dished out 10 assists. The Lakers bounced back and won the series.

“That game changed my outlook on basketball as far as having respect for your opponent,” Cooper said. “I never ever did that again. We didn’t do anythig ugly or vile.

“Pat Riley said it doesn’t matter if you’re the top dog or the bottom dog. You always have to have respect for the fight that’s in the dog. We had lost that respect, but we quickly got it back.”


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