For the second year in a row, legendary Lakers shooting guard Michael Cooper has been nominated for the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. This is Cooper’s second time being nominated, with the first coming in 2021.
The Hall of Fame announced Cooper’s eligibility along with the rest of nominees for the 2022 class on Friday.
This nomination does not guarantee that Cooper will be admitted, however. Only five nominees from the North American Committee are taken each year, and it’s always a crowded field. Basketball-Reference puts Cooper’s Hall of Fame probability — which it calculates by looking at the statistics and accolades of past nominees and comparing them to players not currently in the Hall — at 1.2%. Still, Cooper clearly has a case for induction.
For one thing, he was a part of some legendary Showtime Lakers teams, serving as one of the best wing defenders in the league while winning five championships, making the All-Defensive team eight times, and winning the Defensive Player of the Year in 1987 despite coming off of the bench for all but two games that season. His career stats — 8.9 points, 3.2 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game — may not be gaudy, but it’s clear that he was a better and more valuable player than they suggest on their own, and was willing to sublimate his own ego or desire for a bigger role to win.
The only reason the Lakers have not retired his jersey is because — with the exception of Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal, who were Hall of Fame shoo-ins — they have not retired the numbers of any players who were not yet enshrined in Springfield.
Still, whether Cooper makes it into the Hall or not, this is a solid reminder that he really should have his No. 21 hanging in the rafters at The Crypt. He ranks in the top 10 in franchise history in games and minutes played, assists, steals, blocks and Value Over Replacement Player. The only players to play more games or minutes for the Lakers and not have their jerseys retired are Byron Scott and Derek Fisher. He told our own Sabreena Merchant that seeing his jersey up there would be an even bigger honor than making the Hall.
I get that the Lakers have a historically high standard for this stuff, where it’s literally harder to get your jersey retired for them than it is to get nominated to the Basketball Hall of Fame, but Cooper really does deserve to be recognized for his contributions somewhere, and is at the very least one of the most underrated Lakers of all time. Add in that he coached the Los Angeles Sparks to two WNBA titles, and his name should really be in the rafters at Crypto.com Arena in purple and gold somewhere.