ATLANTA (AP) - The Atlanta Dream hired former NBA star Michael Cooper as head coach on Thursday, hoping he can lead the team to a WNBA championship after three winless trips to the finals.
The 57-year-old Cooper won five titles as a defensive stopper for the Lakers during the ''Showtime'' era, and he followed up his playing career by guiding the WNBA's Los Angeles Sparks to consecutive titles as a coach in 2001 and 2002.
Atlanta won three of the last four Eastern Conference titles, but has yet to win a game in the finals. Cooper takes over for Fred Williams, who was relieved of his coaching duties after Atlanta was swept by Minnesota in this year's championship series.
''The team's appearance in the WNBA finals shows they are on the right track,'' Cooper said in a statement. ''They've been knocking on the door of a championship, and I know what that felt like in my early years with the Sparks, but now it's time to kick the door in and make it happen.''
Cooper coached the Sparks from 2000-04, and returned to lead the team again from 2007-09. In between, he served a brief stint as interim coach of the Denver Nuggets and also won a championship coaching in the NBA Development League.
After his second run with the Sparks, Cooper took over as the women's coach at Southern California. He quit in March coming off an 11-20 season - his first losing mark in four seasons - and frustrated with leading the school to only one postseason appearance.
Cooper is the third coach in Atlanta team history. He ranks second among WNBA coaches in winning percentage (.663) and sixth in career victories with a mark of 167-85. His record at USC was 72-57.
''As we look to take the Atlanta Dream to the next level, Michael Cooper brings a caliber of coaching and leadership that is truly unique,'' team owners Mary Brock and Kelly Loeffler said in a statement. ''His passion for the game, for the WNBA and his focus on player development will be invaluable. We are excited to build on the success of our franchise for our team, our fans and for the city of Atlanta, and are already working toward an exciting 2014 season.''