Words: Elle Clay

Photography: Ming Smith

Te’a Cooper is a star. On the court, the second round pick emerged as a viable candidate for 2020’s ROTY, playing her first season for the Los Angeles Sparks. Off the court, she leads the WNBA in social media impressions, sharing her training, style, humor and home life to fans around the world.

For Te’a, “ball is life” is more than a motto. And while her stardom might be a surprise to some, Te’a always knew she’d make it. She serendipitously manifested her position on the Sparks, all the way back in elementary school, when she rapped about playing for the franchise. Empowered by her supportive family, Te’a dominated as a high school guard, winning three championships in four years. By her senior year, she had played in the inaugural girls’ Jordan Brand Classic and was named co-MVP of the McDonald’s All American game.

Following two seasons at the University of Tennessee, Te’a transferred to the University of South Carolina. There, she made the all-SEC team in 2019 yet longed for the opportunity to play her true position of point guard. After earning a degree in Interdisciplinary Studies, Te’a made the decision to play at Baylor as a graduate student. Though the season was shortened due to the pandemic, Te’a put up impressive stats of 13.6 points, 2.3 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game.

2020 brought many unforeseen circumstances to professional sports and athletes. After being drafted by Phoenix, Te’a was released due to pandemic-related cutbacks. However, just as she had declared in elementary school, Te’a was picked up by the Los Angeles Sparks. Though the road there was untraditional, she made the most of her rookie season in the Wubble.

Guided by L.A.’s legendary coach, Te’a made her presence known as a defensive threat and excellent ball handler. She exhibited undeniable chemistry with her new teammates, in a way that set her apart from her draft class. Tea’s massive online following stays tapped in, checking for the latest glimpse of her pre-game drip. Off the court, Te’a has spoken about owning her own clothing brand and modeling agency in the future.

We caught up with Te’a to talk about family, style and her passion for the game. Welcome to the family Te’a.

How does it feel to be a member of the Jordan Brand family?

It’s really exciting. It’s a blessing, and it’s refreshing, especially with everything else that’s going on. It’s a beautiful thing. I’m hopeful for what it will bring in the future and look forward to meeting everyone in-person. I feel blessed to have the opportunity.

I found some amazing footage of you from your younger days. You seem to have known from all the way back then that you were going to be in the league. Where did that confidence and love of basketball come from?

I don’t think that I knew for sure, but I believed in myself. Credit for that goes to my father and mother. They supported me and so did my siblings. It meant the world to me. It made me feel like I could do anything.

In elementary school, you had a song where you rapped about playing for the Sparks. Despite all the circumstances of the draft and the pandemic, how did your first year on the team live up to your childhood dreams?

I’ve tried to remember exactly why we were rapping back then, but I know my sister was freestyling, and then I started rapping, too. It just came out. Then, it was crazy when I got the offer last year. I loved seeing how happy my dad and mom were. Everybody in my family was proud, because they knew I always wanted to play there. I love L.A.. It all happened so quickly and unexpectedly.

You reached the league, and then it became a bubble situation. How was the adjustment for you?

In some ways, it was easy for me. I didn’t really go out in high school or college. I know it wasn’t easy for everybody. I’m used to being in the house and having my space, which is kind of how it felt at the hotel. The hardest part was not being able to see my family in the stands or spend time with them. It was unfortunate, but I tried to make the best of it.

“Life is 90% mental and 10% physical.”

You’ve been coached by some legendary guards. What are some of the most important lessons they’ve taught you?

Dawn taught me that life is 90% mental and 10% physical. That was very beneficial to me, knowing that I needed to be mentally strong. I was staying in the gym, working out and doing rehab all the time. I had to learn what it takes to be mentally strong. From Derek, I learned how to be more understanding. He goes out of his way to help everyone, stays calm and he doesn’t make assumptions. It’s amazing to watch.

You came through the Wubble with some serious drip. You bring your own unique glamour to the game. How do you prepare your looks?

Well, I don’t really prepare. I start with my shoes and then whatever colors I’m feeling. It’s not really something I plan. I just wake up and decide. The way I shop makes it easy for me to pick out an outfit. I buy entire looks or things that will go together, so it’s not that hard for me. 

How would you describe your style overall?

I would say it’s simple, but I don’t think everybody is going to agree with that! [Laughs] To me, it really is. I might have on a blue shirt and blue jeans with some nice sneakers. It’s simple, but you see me though.

Speaking of style, there’s a certain swagger and confidence that comes with being a Jordan Brand athlete. How would you describe that?

MJ just has that “it” factor. You see him, and you just know it’s him. His brand, his shoes and the athletes are prestigious. They symbolize so much to people. To be a part of this family, I’m just like, “Wow, I really did it.”

You also played in the Jordan Brand Classic in 2015. What was it like to have your game recognized at that time? What did you appreciate about the experience?

It was crazy, because we were the first Jordan Brand Classic for the women’s side. Maya Moore and MJ showed up just to talk to us. It was honestly exhilarating! To think that it happened to be my senior year, I was honored. And it was so fun. It was in New York City, and I remember that Maya came to practice. I had a great time.

In your experience, what are the most important features in a basketball shoe?

For me, it’s about comfort, because you plant your feet so much. People don’t always talk about it, but you break your toenails, you get bunions on your toes. After comfort, it’s about style. I just can’t play in something that’s not comfortable. So, I think that’s the most important, and the shoe being light. I don’t want to feel like I’m running in some Timbs or a heavy shoe. I think that comfortability gets the most important.

Having played in the Air Jordan in XXXIV, what are your first impressions of the Air Jordan XXXV?

It’s great, because they’re comfortable and light. They’re cute, and I like the splashes of color. I really like them.

Aside from your experience at the Jordan Brand Classic, do you have any favorite memories with Air Jordans?

After the Jordan Brand Classic, I got obsessed with Air Jordan Is. I love them shoes! I started getting every one that came out. I really like and started collecting Air Jordan XIs, too.

The Jumpman has grown to represent more than just basketball or even sports. What does the Jumpman represent to you?

I think it represents prestigious human beings who you can look up to. MJ went and got everything he dreamed of. He made his dreams a reality. For somebody to be human and make that possible is amazing. To think of all he’s done for the world, for people and for even himself — it’s remarkable. Some of us weren’t alive when he was playing, but we still get to witness him. The fact that I’ve seen him at games or at the Jordan Brand Classic is incredible. The Jumpman means a lot. It’s phenomenal that somebody could make all of this happen.

Learn more about our WNBA family members here.