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Go back to NBA life in the 1980s, and it was dominated by the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics. In each year of the decade, one of those two teams reached the NBA Finals. They squared off against each other three times.

Michael Cooper was part of all five championships the Lakers won in the 1980s. The Lakers selected the 6-foot-7 guard in the third round of the 1978 NBA Draft, and he earned his way onto the team with a defense-first mentality. Cooper won NBA titles in 1980, 1982, 1985, 1987, and 1988. He revealed which of those championships he cherished most.

Michael Cooper had to make some serious adjustments as a rookie with the Lakers

In two seasons at New Mexico State, Cooper showed he could put the ball in the basket, averaging 16.1 points as a senior. He put up 15.6 points per game in his two years with the Lobos. In his two previous years at Pasadena City College, Cooper really lit up offensively.

“This is what people don’t realize,” Cooper told former NBA star Rick Barry on The Rick Barry Show. “They look at me as a defensive player, but I averaged 27 points a game in college, my sophomore year.”

When he got to the Lakers as a third-round pick, he knew he’d have to make some sacrifices to make the team. In fact, he was told just that.

“When I first got to the Lakers, they told me, ‘We got Kareem (Abdul-Jabbar), Norm Nixon, Jamaal Wilkes,” Cooper once told former Lakers teammate Byron Scott on Scott’s Off the Dribble podcast. “‘I don’t need nobody else shooting the ball.’ That’s kind of how I got into the forte of being a good defensive player.”

Cooper made his mark in the league as one of the best defensive players of his era. Celtics star Larry Bird publicly stated that Cooper was the only guy “who can really shut me down.”

Cooper says he cherishes the 1985 championship the most

During his appearance on The Rick Barry Show, Barry asked Cooper which of his five championship teams did he feel was the best.

“There’s two of them, and I think they go hand-in-hand,” Cooper said. “The first one is always special because, in 1980, we weren’t planning to win a championship. We were just trying to get our team together and have that camaraderie, that closeness. We fooled around and found ourselves playing against the Sixers, and we won.

“But the one I cherish the most would be 1985. As a kid growing up here in Los Angeles and seeing the Lakers and the great Elgin Baylor, Jerry (West), Wilt Chamberlain, and Happy Hairston, just to name a few of those guys, always watching them go and never being able to get over the hump of the Boston Celtics.

“We thought we had an opportunity to get it done (against the Celtics) in 1984, and we got the s*** kicked out of us again. That whole mystique came back, with the Boston jinx.”

The teams met again in the 1985 NBA Finals. The Lakers were hungry and motivated. They became the first visiting team ever to win a championship on Boston’s home court. They closed out the series in six games.

“Then we had the opportunity for revenge (in 1985),” Cooper said. “It exorcised a lot of the ghosts from the 60s and all the Lakers teams that never had the opportunity to overcome the Celtics. We kind of helped them out in that aspect, and that’s the one I cherish the most.”


Winning the 1985 NBA Title on the Boston Celtics Home Court Still Has Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Searching for Words