Te’a Cooper is the WNBA’s rising star! The rookie, out of Baylor University, nearly missed her shot at the league before she showed out in the ‘Wubble.’ And, Te’a is the only player to attend the WNBA and NBA bubbles.
In the most unprecedented year of her life, Te’a Cooper experienced a significant amount of adversity — but she came out on top. After her WNBA dreams were nearly snatched away by team cuts due to the COVID-19 pandemic — which also cut her senior season short at Baylor University — Te’a eventually made it to the league. In her debut season with the Los Angeles Sparks, she finished in the top 10 in points per game and assists among rookies.
“The journey getting here and the fact that I got the opportunity when I got it. I was surrounded by so many wonderful voices, and that started with the coaches down to my teammates — to be around them and grow in a time like this is really the most beneficial part of it all,” the 23-year-old point guard said about her unique rookie season in an exclusive interview with HollywoodLife.
Some would say the odds were stacked against Te’a, a New Jersey native, before she made it to the league. This past Spring, while she was a senior at Baylor University, the coronavirus pandemic led to the cancellation of the NCAA tournament. Even the casual WNBA knows that the annual event is the prime showcase for collegiate ballers to perform in hopes of getting drafted to the league. Not to mention, Baylor was chasing a national title. Despite her lack of exposure, on April 17, the Phoenix Mercury selected Te’a as the 18th pick in the virtual 2020 WNBA Draft. Just a few weeks later, she was cut by the team in May, when the Mercury had to trim its roster down to 11-12 players due to COVID-19. The pandemic also caused the cancellation of pre-season training camp.
Regardless of the circumstances, Te’a stayed prepared by “working out with my brothers” and “only focusing on what I could control.” And then, the phone rang. It was the Los Angeles Sparks calling to pick up Te’a after guard Kristi Toliver opted out of the 2020 season. And, she delivered. In her first game of the season with the Sparks, Te’a scored 10 points off the bench against her former Mercury team.
“To have my coaches believe in keeping me in the fourth quarter when things matter and in tough games, and really seeing what I brought to the table,” she said, calling the unique opportunity a “learning experience.” Reflecting back on her unpredictable journey, Te’a said, “And, to think, at one point you didn’t necessarily have a shot, and that was out of your control. It’s just insane.”
On September 17, the Sparks were eliminated in the second round of the WNBA playoffs after a 73-59 loss to the Connecticut Sun. When the team left the WNBA “Wubble,” at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, Te’a didn’t travel back home with her team. She left the Wubble for the NBA bubble to reunite with her fiance, Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard. The NBA bubble was located at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, nearly two hours from the WNBA Wubble. — Te’a’s double bubble move makes her the first pro basketball player to attend both bubbles.
While in the bubble, Te’a said that Dwight and the Lakers were so locked in on “finishing the job,” that she didn’t see him much — until LA beat the Miami Heat 106-93, in Game 6 of the NBA Finals on October 11, of course. Even when Te’a did chat with Dwight about the series, she said that they’d both get “a little superstitious,” adding, “You don’t try to get too far ahead.” Instead, the couple “stayed in the moment” and soaked in every second of the historic bubble experience.
While comparing and contrasting the WNBA and NBA bubbles, Te’a said that in the WNBA bubble, “We had UberEats.” Nonetheless, upon her arrival to the NBA bubble, she quickly learned that there was no access to ordering food outside the campus due to the league’s COVID guidelines. Luckily, the NBA’s resort-style bubble, which featured a number of restaurants and bars, made for “great options,” Te’a said.
As for what she’ll take away from her dual WNBA and NBA bubble experiences? — “I think the fact that we had a whole season during the pandemic and we stood for a lot of things. Our voices were being heard for things that matter in the world,” Te’a explained. “To watch the two leagues handle everything and have us in meetings and in the conversations for the plans to make change, I think that part is what I’m gonna remember the most, and the relationships that I encountered in both of the bubbles.”