For the second year in a row, a legendary Lakers shooting guard might be heading for the Basketball Hall of Fame. After Kobe Bryant got in last year, Michael Cooper has been nominated for the 2021 class. This is Cooper’s first time being nominated.
The Hall of Fame announced Cooper’s eligibility along with the rest of nominees for the 2021 class (a full list can be found here).
The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame today announced the list of eligible candidates for the Class of 2021, including first-time nominees Doug Collins, Michael Cooper, Howard Garfinkel, Lou Henson, Paul Pierce, Val Ackerman, Yolanda Griffith and Lauren Jackson.
Returning to the ballot are fan-favorite nominees Chauncey Billups, Chris Bosh, Richard Hamilton, Bob Huggins, Ben Wallace, Chris Webber, Jay Wright, Swin Cash and Becky Hammon among others.
Following the Hall of Fame’s traditional timeline, Finalists from the North American and Women’s committee for the Class of 2021 will be announced in the timeframe of NBA All-Star Weekend, which is scheduled for early March. The entire Class of 2021, including those selected by the direct elect committees, will be unveiled in the timeframe of the NCAA Final Four scheduled for early April. Event details are forthcoming, and the announcement timeline is subject to change.
So as covered in that release, this does not guarantee that Cooper will be admitted. Only five nominees from the North American Committee are taken each year, and it’s a crowded field. Basketball-Reference puts his 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 Lakers have not retired his jersey because — with the exception of Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal, who were shoo-ins — they have not retired the numbers of any players who were not yet in the Hall of Fame. 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 Staples Center rafters. He ranks in the top 10 in franchise history in games and minutes played, 3-pointers made, 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.
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 Staples Center rafters in purple and gold somewhere.