Basketball record-holder reflects on a storied Falcon career
Linda Johnson Cooper is one of just two women’s basketball players in the Falcon Hall of Fame.
She’s still the all-time leading scorer in Seattle Pacific women’s basketball history.
She’s also No. 2 for steals and No. 3 for rebounds.
None of that is likely to change soon.
But during her four years at SPU, Linda Johnson Cooper ’89 was just as focused on her studies as a chemistry major. Athletically, she was as happy on the track as she was on the court.
“I didn’t think basketball was my primary sport,” says the 50-year-old Cooper, now an oncology nurse at the Veterans Administration Hospital on Seattle’s Beacon Hill. “[Growing up], I played basketball because my friends played,” she says. “The whole neighborhood played. It was ratball.”
Cooper is one of just two women’s basketball players (Tosca Lindberg is the other) in the Falcon Hall of Fame. She helped take a team that had suffered through seven straight losing seasons to a 67–46 record during her four years, including the first playoff appearance in history.
And then, of course, there were those 1,842 points, 907 rebounds, and 282 steals.
“I’m surprised it’s actually still there, to be honest,” she says of her scoring record. “Those were not any of the goals at all. I didn’t really have any goals.
“I just wanted to have fun, play basketball, and try to win games.”
Growing up in Oak Harbor, about 90 miles north of Seattle, Cooper took part in cross-country, basketball, and track.
“At the time, I was more of a track person — I liked to run, and I was a cross-country runner,” she says. “I ran a lot.”
The 5-foot-10-inch Cooper was one of Oak Harbor’s tallest athletes, so she played the post position. (“It seems nowadays, 5-10 would be too small for small forward — it might even be too short for point guard,” she says with a laugh.) The Wildcats made it to the regional playoffs during her junior and senior seasons.
With that multisport talent, SPU women’s basketball coach Nels Hawkinson and track coach Doris Heritage both wanted her in Seattle.
“From the moment I saw her in high school, I dreamed of having her in a Falcon uniform,” Hawkinson says. “She was and still is amazing.”
Along with four years of basketball, Cooper did wind up doing two seasons of track.
“She was not only a very good athlete, but she was a very fine person,” Heritage says. “I can’t think of one minute when she wasn’t inspirational, positive, and pleasant.”
As a sophomore during the 1986–87 season, Cooper took over as the team’s leading scorer (18.9) and rebounder (9.6), and set the pace with 64 steals. She was named a National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics third-team All-American.
The Falcons went 16–11 during Cooper’s junior year, as she averaged a career-high 20.7 points and 9.6 rebounds, and was an honorable mention All-American.
Her senior year team went 24–6 and advanced to the 1989 NAIA district playoffs, Seattle Pacific’s first taste of postseason women’s hoops action. Cooper averaged 19.4 points, 9.4 rebounds, and had a team-high of 74 steals.
Today, she is certified for oncology and bone marrow transplant at the Seattle VA Hospital.
“I like taking care of the vets and meeting their needs,” she says. “It’s just being able to help someone in their time of need — just listening to them, talking about the Mariners, and just helping people.” Cooper and husband, Keith, are big-time Mariners fans, and her midnight-to-8-a.m. shift allows her to attend all of the home games.
Like most athletes, Cooper looks back and says she might change one or two things — but that’s all.
“If I could do it over, I would spend more time with teammates and build relationships,” she says. “I think I would have more fun, and maybe a little more purpose. I wouldn’t change my goals at all, but basketball is something I would focus on more.”
Hard to argue with the focus Linda Cooper had while she was here — just check out her long-standing scoring record.
And that’s not likely to change soon.