Former Los Angeles Lakers guard and current Atlanta Dream head coach Michael Cooper was diagnosed with early-stage tongue cancer but is expected to return in two weeks.
The Dream issued a presse release on their official website regarding the matter:
"The WNBA Atlanta Dream announced today that head coach Michael Cooper has been diagnosed with early-stage tongue cancer, and will take a temporary leave of absence from the team.
"Cooper will undergo a surgical procedure this week at Winship Cancer Instiute of Emory University in Atlanta. Typical recovery time for the procedure is two weeks. A full recovery is anticipated following the surgical procedure. During Cooper's absence from the team, assistant coach Karleen Thompson will assume head coaching duties. Per team policy, no further details will be disclosed.
"'The doctors and staff at Emory have been tremendous, and I know I'm in good hands,' said Cooper. '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 led the Dream to a 15-6 record and a first-place standing in the Eastern Conference in his first season leading the Dream. The two-time WNBA champion head coach has the Dream in contention for its first Eastern Conference regular-season title in team history, as the team holds a five-game lead with 13 games remaining. He coached the East to a 125-124 overtime victory at the WNBA All-Star game on Saturday."
In a Dec. 2013 interview with SwishAppeal.com's James Bowman, Cooper spoke about his title aspirations as the new head coach of the Dream:
"To win another one. When you win that one, you get greedy for more,. and that's something that happened in my playing days with the Lakers. We messed around and we weren't even trying to win a championship in 1980, and next year, we find ourselves playing in the biggest game of the NBA, and we won it. You know what? That sets the precedent for what goes on in the future.
"That's what this is about. The Dream have gotten to the finals three times. They've knocked on the door and it's about getting there and it's time not to knock any more -- it's time we kick the door in. I think if we put the pieces together, and if the players buy into my philosophy -- which I have no doubt that they will -- things are going to happen.
"Once you get that -- it's like LeBron James says, 'I want to win, one, two, three, four...' On and on! But the first thing is you can't win two without winning that first one."
Cooper is one of the most successful coaches in the WNBA's 17-year history, amassing a .663 career winning percentage and 167 career victories, good for second and sixth all-time, respectively. He is the last head coach to steer his team to two consecutive WNBA titles. In his case, he achieved the feat in 2001 and 2002 with the Los Angeles Sparks, per his WNBA coaching biography.