Former Laker Michael Cooper diagnosed with early stage tongue cancer

Former Laker Michael Cooper will take a leave of absence as the head coach of the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream because of early stage tongue cancer. Cooper plans to have a surgical procedure this week at the Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University in Atlanta and is expected to recover in two weeks. Assistant coach Karleen Thompson will assume head coaching duties during Cooper’s absence.

“The doctors and staff at Emory have been tremendous, and I know I’m in good hands,” Cooper said in a statement. “I’m fortunate that my condition was diagnosed early, and this episode illustrates the importance of screening and early detection. I know the team will be in good hands with Coach Thompson at the helm during my absence, and I look forward to returning to the court soon.”

Cooper has guided Atlanta to an Eastern Conference best 15-6 record in his first season. He also coached the East to a 125-124 overtime win at the WNBA All-Star game on Saturday.

Cooper is best known as a defensive specialist with the Showtime Lakers (1978-90) where he won five NBA championships. He also coached the Los Angeles Sparks to two WNBA championships (2001, 2002). Cooper left his second stint with the Sparks to coach the USC’s women’s basketball team. But he resigned in March after finishing 11-20, his first losing record in four seasons.

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Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at mark.medina@langnews.com

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