Lakers vs. Celtics, Game 3: L.A.'s Derek Fisher the King for a Night
"Fame," O.J. [Simpson. Yes, that one.] said, walking along, "is a vapor, popularity is an accident, and money takes wings. The only thing that endures is character."
"Where'd you get that from?" [A.C. "You Know Who He Is, Dammit"] Cowlings asked.
"Heard it one night on TV in Buffalo," O.J. said. "I was watching a late hockey game on Canadian TV and all of a sudden a guy just said it. Brought me right up out of my chair. I never forgot it."
-David Halberstam's epigraph, quoting a Paul Zimmerman Sports Illustrated article, to The Breaks of the Game, almost universally acknowledged as the best book about basketball that was and ever will be written
It seems like Derek Fisher has stood in the shadow of giants his whole career.
Maybe that's because the giants stand on his shoulders.
Let's begin with the start of his professional career, when the Lakers plucked him out of the basketball backwater of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock (not to be confused with Nolan Richardson's Fayetteville powerhouse from the mid-90s) with the 24th pick in the 1996 NBA Draft:
Hubie Brown said it himself. "Everyone is sitting here saying, 'Who is this kid?'"
Fans and opposing players have kept saying it—well, maybe except for the "kid" part—throughout Fisher's career. Until Fish again reminds them that he belongs, up front and center stage.
Even so, he seems to thrive on being ignored until it counts. Like Bruce Willis's character in Pulp Fiction , that's how you keep beating them, Fish.
They keep underestimating you.
The Boston Celtics are just the latest victim. Like John Travolta's character in that same film, the Celtics were caught walking out of the bathroom unaware and unarmed (though with Ray Allen's aim last night, maybe that's a good thing).
Derek Fisher has been the Lakers' brown shoes to the rest of their tuxedo over his two tenures with the team. Like a good pair of brown shoes, though, oh, the places they've gone with him!
Let us not forget L.A.'s other acquisitions that crucial summer of '96 when Fisher was drafted: Kobe Bryant, taken earlier that same draft day with the Lakers' 13th pick, and Shaquille O'Neal, who signed with the Lakers less than a month later.
How about before the 2003-04 season, when the Lakers made the much-hyped signings of Karl Malone and Gary Payton, which relegated Fisher to a backup role?
The one highlight that endures from that otherwise putrid "Fab Four" season?
Need I say more?
The summer after that season, Fisher wasn't offered a new contract with the team. That development was overshadowed by Shaquille O'Neal's trade to the Miami Heat and Phil Jackson's long, strange trip to the Outback with Luc Longley.
Coincidentally or not, the Lakers were still lost in the NBA wilderness, even with Jackson returning as coach two seasons earlier. Until Fisher re-signed with the team before the 2007-08 season, so that his daughter could receive top-flight attention for her health issues. Utah Jazz fans still boo him for his decision, probably for the same reason Philadelphia fans once booed Santa Claus.
Of course, later that season, the Lakers traded for Pau Gasol. His acquisition cemented the Lakers' return to championship contention. It's also worth noting the team had a 28-16 record with Fisher before acquiring Gasol.
Overshadowed yet again, naturally.
Even this season—even leading up to the NBA Finals —Fisher was seen as the weak link on this Lakers team.
He wouldn't be able to keep up with guards like Deron Williams, Steve Nash or Rajon Rondo.
Now we have the latest chapter in Derek Fisher's heroics: his layup over Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett and Glen Davis, a "Boston Three Party" every Laker fan could enjoy, punctuating Fisher's 11-point fourth quarter.
Here's some 4-1-1: Slow and steady wins the race.
It's impossible to know why Fish was overcome with emotion after winning the latest race last night. Maybe because he's the rare player to know his place in history as it occurs. It was as self-aware, if less grating, a moment as Kevin Garnett's primal yelp of "ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE!" after winning the championship two seasons ago.
Maybe it's because Fisher got to have at least one more moment on the court equal to the size of his heart.
National sports blowhard, Skip Bayless, accused Fisher this morning on ESPN's "1st and 10" of playing up the moment for dramatic effect. An opinion of someone who has obviously never played the sport, or is at least unfamiliar with any emotion that isn't abstracted anger.
Have we become so jaded as a nation and sports fans that we can't appreciate a genuinely great human moment when it hits us square on during one of our greatest athletic showcases?
Perhaps Fisher's re-emergence on the national sports scene yesterday, along with the electrifying baseball debut of young Mr. Stephen Strasburg, stemmed some of that tide of cynicism lapping against our shores.
I started this article with a Simpson-related quote, so let me conclude it with another one. This one comes from Jebediah Obadiah Zachariah Jedediah Springfield, the founder of the town of Springfield..well, the state eludes me right now. Anyway, Mr. Springfield once said, "A noble spirit embiggens the smallest man."
The Lakers' smallest man.
Their noblest spirit.
Thank you, Fish.
Once again, you've embiggened the Lakers, their fans and your own legend, and it couldn't have come at a more perfectly cromulent time.
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