A Good Sport

In the section of Los Angeles where Cynthia Cooper grew up, "people didn't exactly knock down your door to encourage you." Luckily, her mother did. "She was my ray of sunshine," says Cooper; the bright spot in a childhood that was tainted by an abusive father and older brother. "My mother taught me to believe in myself, even if I was the only one who did." It was a lesson she took to heart, and one that likely got this athletic little girl from the inner city to where she is today.

As one of the original members of the Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA) and a mother of twins, "Coop" is admired by young people and fans all over the world. It's no wonder -- she helped guide the Houston Comets to four consecutive championships and was twice named the WNBA's most valuable player. And she's got her own shoe: the Nike Air C14. All this in the inaugural four years of the WNBA, before retiring -- the first time to coach, and then again to spend more time with her family. "It's a juggling act," admits Cooper, who, aside from her year-old twin boys, raised seven nieces and nephews. As her biggest fans, "they gave me pointers all the time, especially when I was playing poorly," laughs the 5' 10" guard, who averaged 21 points per game before retiring, and remains the league's all-time leading scorer.

Although she has her hands full, this season, at the age of 40, Cooper is making a Jordan-esque return to the court. "I'm a firm believer in finishing what you started. And finishing strong -- as strongly as you began." Yet another lesson learned from her mother, and one that she attempts to drive home with her kids and her audiences. "Hard work is needed for success," she says. "And it's so important to hang tough during difficult times; in life and in business." It's a message that resonates with people from all walks of life -- even those who've never slam-dunked a thing.