Larry Bird regards Michael Cooper as the best defender he ever played. Considering the way Cooper prepared for Bird, that makes sense.
“I used to study games of his,” Cooper told ESPN’s Brian Kamenetzy during a podcast. “It would be a month before we would play the Celtics, but I was getting ready for him. Watching him play.”
The way Cooper describes watching Bird play, he used a far more detailed process than the way most people watch basketball games. He noted what Bird did on out of bounds passes, and the way Bird moved around picks. He dissected which way Bird preferred to drive and what shots he liked in certain situations. According to one Celtics-Lakers game broadcast, Cooper owned 50 game tapes of Larry Bird.
But Bird’s game was so complete, his arsenal so varied, his repertoire so ambidextrous, that Cooper could hardly find any tendencies to build on.
“Larry was naturally born left-handed, and taught himself how to shoot right handed,” Cooper said. “He was very ambidextrous so you couldn’t force him one way or the other, because he was just as good going to his left as he was to his right. The only tendencies I had [available from film] to pick up with him was how he came off of picks. How he set you up to come off a pick.”
Cooper’s hands used to sweat profusely prior to facing Bird, which he considered a sign that he was ready to play, and he once compared defending Bird to the Christian entering the arena to face the lions.
“But I have an idea of how to defense the lion,” he said.
And the lion held a world of respect for the Christian, even if the lion always wanted to kick the Christian’s ass.