Michael Cooper, former member of the infamous Los Angeles Lakers “Showtime” team, at one point it seemed unlikely that he would make it to the NBA after he failed a junior college English class. Faced with such a challenging situation, Cooper’s humility came to the fore when he persevered and exhibited many champion-like qualities that allowed him to successfully overcome this lesson that had a profound impact not only on his education, but also in his life and career.
Cooper played under head coach Joe Barnes from 1974 to 1976 and picked up 1,070 points at 20.2 points per game, placing him at No. 7 on the all-time points scoring list for the Lancers. According to Barnes, Cooper not only exuded class on the court with his countless skills, but more importantly his character shone more brightly when he had to swallow sitting out the rest of the 1974-75 season due to being deemed academically ineligible.
“A lot of kids would have sulked after that and just quit,” said Barnes, “but he came to every single game after that, sat on the bench and cheered. Not being able to play was a severe price to play and he was very hurt by it, but I was very proud of the way he took it.”
Terry Wood, the assistant sports editor of the Courier when Cooper attended PCC, described Cooper as someone who “emerged as a high-flying Gulliver in the Lancers 92-90 double-overtime win against East LA” in an article published on Jan. 16, 1976.
In a game-winning performance and clearly Cooper’s standout display wearing a Lancers uniform, he single-handedly led PCC to victory with 36 points and his last shot sealed the win with a few seconds left in the second overtime period.
Wood also described the ever-reliable Pasadena-native as “the remarkable Cooper, as usual.”
“The sophomore forward’s amazing mid-air spinning shot 22 feet away gave PCC its second straight Metropolitan Conference victory,” Wood wrote.
The headline referring to a picture of Cooper in the Jan. 23, 1976 edition of the Courier read, “Virtually unstoppable—the 6’5 sophomore does not make up the whole team, according to teammate John Legay, ‘just 75%.’”
Although Cooper didn’t manage to leave PCC with a conference or state championship, he acquired five NBA championships with the Lakers in his 12 year career that spanned from 1979 to 1990 and he managed to snare the NBA defensive player of the year in 1987 while also making the NBA all-defensive team eight times.
Cooper is one of the most successful coaches in the Women’s National Basketball League, with the second-highest winning percentage at 66.3 and he is sixth in career wins (167) and the last coach to win back-to-back titles in 2001 and 2002 for the Los Angeles Sparks. He also led the Sparks to eight West Coast Championships and won the 2000 WNBA coach of the year award in his debut season.
Cooper is in the all-time Top 10 in the following categories for the Lakers: games played (873), minutes played (23,635), steals (1033), blocked shots (523), assists (3666), defensive rebounds (2028) and free-throw percentage (83.3).
In 2010, Cooper was inducted into the California Community College Hall of Fame, which shows what impact the PCC guard made in his two years at the JC level which gave him the launching pad to help steer the University of New Mexico Los Lobos to win the 1978 Western Athletic Conference title.
Cooper is one of the few athletes to come out of PCC and not only make it to the NCAA and professional ranks, but what makes his feats more notable is that he also became a multiple-winning NBA championship player and WNBA coach and he has always kept his character intact in the process.
Jerry Tarkanian was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2013 for his legendary NCAA Division 1 coaching record of 784-202 over 31 years, which included coaching the University of Nevada, Las Vegas to the 1990 national title and taking UNLV to the Final Four four times. His son Danny played on the championship winning team and was an All-American point-guard.
Affectionately known as “Tark the Shark” for reforming the college game by implementing a pressing defense to support his team’s dynamic offense, Tarkanian played basketball for Pasadena City College from 1950 to 1951 and coached the men’s team from 1966 to 1968, which included delivering a state championship in 1967 and a second place finish in 1968 while compiling a 67-4 overall record coaching the Lancers.
Tarkanian revamped a struggling Lancers men’s basketball program by instilling a winning culture on and off the court. That had a profound impact on the spectators, who came in droves to watch the team play after Tarkanian took over.
“PCC has entered a new era, the era of basketball supremacy,” PCC Courier staff writer Bill Seavey wrote in a Sept. 21, 1966 article. “To Lancerville, Tarkanian has done more than merely bring the best of the west, and east in prep cage talent, although this is considerable in itself. Tarkanian has given life to a sport long on death row. PCC students, notorious for their lack of support of Lancers athletics, are actually attending basketball games.”
In early Feb. 1967, the Lancers were voted second in the state behind San Francisco based on the Junior College Sports wire state cage rating after extending their winning streak to 22 games.
“The PCC Lancers, with the winningest basketball season in the history of the college nearly wrapped up, currently standing at 24-1 and have the longest winning streak in the state, seem destined to hit the top spot before long,” wrote then-sports editor Karl Ludaver.
Tarkanian introduced various new initiatives to college basketball throughout his coaching career, the most glaring being the shifting of attention away from the coach to the players in the form of his unique style of basketball.
“He made the players more important than him. He made the players the show,” said former UNLV assistant coach Mark Warkentien, when interviewed for Tarkanian’s wikipedia profile. “It was about the players first.”
Tarkanian was one of the first coaches to select an all-black starting lineup and his recruiting practices centered on selecting players who his fellow coaches rejected while focusing on picking up junior college stars or players with troubled pasts and promoting his teams to play with explicit freedom.
Tarkanian coached the San Antonio Spurs to a 9-11 record in the NBA in 1992, but was fired after a disagreement with GM Red McCombs, who didn’t think the Spurs needed an experienced point guard to be competitive. Another lowlight in his coaching career related to his enduring battle with the NCAA, which accused him of violations resulting in three of his universities receiving fines.
Tarkanian rebuked these claims by suing the NCAA for $2.5 million for harassment over two decades, claiming that the NCAA targeted smaller university programs and took a blind-eye to more established powerhouse programs. This resulted in the case being settled out of court and the NCAA not admitting to any harassment taking place.
Tarkanian was inducted into the CCAA State Hall of Fame in 1999 for collecting four consecutive state titles between 1963 and 1967 at Riverside Community College and PCC.
There will be many things Tarkanian will remembered for in an illustrious coaching career, but it’s hard to forget the superstitious image of him biting into a towel while coaching on the side of the court when his team needed some good luck. This image will forever be etched in our memories.
On Feb. 11, 2015, Tarkanian passed away after battling breathing problems for several days while staying in a Las Vegas hospital. The city of Las Vegas lowered its flags to half-mast at city hall in tribute to the Las Vegas resident and basketball coaching legend.
Matthew “Mack” Robinson is remembered for winning a silver medal and finishing four tenths of a second behind four-time Olympic gold medalist and the great Jesse Owens in the 200-meter dash at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, but his efforts off the track have made a deeper and lasting impact on the city of Pasadena and on the youth of America. Above all, however, he’ll be remembered for breaking racial barriers with his younger brother and Baseball Hall of Fame member Jackie Robinson.
Robinson attended what was then called Pasadena Junior College from 1936 to 1938 and set national junior college records in the 100-yard dash, 200-yard dash and the broad jump. He also won the NCAA 200-yard dash, 220-yard low hurdles and the Amateur Athletic Union championship in 1939 at the University of Oregon and was inducted into the Hall of Fame by PCC, Oregon and the CCAA.
The Pasadena-native carried the Olympic flag in the opening ceremony of the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, led the charge against street crime in Pasadena and his personal mission read, “My desire was to bring about a drastic change in education and the attitudes of America’s youth,” which is engraved on the bronze sculpture of Robinson opposite Pasadena City Hall.