Derek Fisher: An Appreciation for Former Laker's Career

Evan Barnes@evan_bContributor IIIMarch 16, 2012

LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 29:  Derek Fisher #2 of the Los Angeles Lakers celebrates a score against the Minnesota Timberwolves during a 105-84 win at Staples Center on February 29, 2012 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

In 13 seasons with the Lakers, Derek Fisher’s stats are as follows: 915 games, 592 starts, 7.9 points per game. He shot just over 40 percent from the field and 37.5 percent on three-pointers. He averaged 2.9 assists per game. He never went to an All-Star game, except for his appearance in the 1996 Rookie Challenge.

These are the only numbers that matter in those 13 seasons: Seven NBA Finals appearances. Five NBA titles. 0.4 seconds. The uncountable number of Lakers fans who’ll remember his character and leadership as much as his clutch moments.

Fisher’s trade to the Houston Rockets isn't just a business move that overlooks loyalty for on-court help. It marks the end of an era that won’t be forgotten anytime soon. Besides Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal and Pau Gasol, no Lakers player has mattered more over the last decade.

People will bring up the 0.4 shot—the game-winning shot against San Antonio in the 2004 playoffs. The best part about it is that he was probably the fourth option. But he was ready, and when he got the ball, the rest is history. That shot helped propel the Lakers to eventually reach the 2004 NBA Finals.

But as I wrote before, Fisher’s made a living off big moments long before and after that. One of my favorites was going 15-for-20 from three-point range in the 2001 Western Conference Finals. It set a record for most threes in a sweep, and he saved his best for last when he went 6-of-7 from downtown to close out the Spurs in Game 4.

He won Game 4 of the 2009 NBA Finals in Orlando with two timely three-pointers, including one to force overtime. His drive to win Game 3 of the 2010 Finals capped an 11-point quarter in Boston. And I should mention that Fisher was most clutch on the road.

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He was always the one down to do the dirty work. Whether it was hustling after a loose ball or setting the tone in the 2009 playoffs, getting ejected after a hard foul on Luis Scola, he embodied toughness every night. 

Maybe it’s the fact that the Lakers took a chance on him as a first-round draft pick out of Arkansas-Little Rock. Then-general manager Jerry West saw something in him that he usually sees in diamonds in the rough, and Fisher wanted to prove that with his hard-nosed style and timely play.

Off the court, the respect for him as a leader and clubhouse presence loomed large. He had the trust of Kobe Bryant—a fellow member of the 1996 rookie class—and Bryant knew that Fisher wouldn’t just back down, but he’d stand up to him and let his voice be heard.

It speaks volumes that Bryant canceled a radio appearance after finding out about the trade. He lost a valued confidant and someone he could rely on to balance out his furious drive. 

It’s no surprise Fisher became the president of the NBA Players Association, and through his tireless work, he helped save the current season and sacrificed any rest a 37-year-old veteran usually should get. It was a thankless job, but just as important as any.

His faith and his family motivated him as well, and the reason he came back to Los Angeles was to seek better medical treatment for his daughter. The cynics might sneer at that, but considering that he left the 2007 playoffs to be with her, it’s nothing but pure admiration for someone who knows what matters most.

There’s a reason why Lakers fans celebrate his return in 2007 just as much as the trade to bring Pau Gasol to L.A. in 2008. It's a reminder of someone who’d be a coach in the huddle, practices and meetings and a steady pulse in the organization. He cared about the team more than himself and took pride in being a Laker and treating everyone with respect.

It’s no surprise that one of Fisher’s last acts as a Laker was making sure general manager Mitch Kupchak was doing all right personally. Nor was it surprising that he went over to Lamar Odom and hugged him when Odom checked into his first game back after being traded.

Fisher has been first-class since the day he arrived, and I hope that not only will the fans give him a standing ovation when he returns in April, but that the team finds a way to honor him when he retires. Without him, they wouldn't have won their last two rings and the three-peat might look a bit different.

They say Los Angeles only loves stars. Well, Fisher earned his place among them without playing like one all the time. He was blue-collar and had ice in his veins when called upon to deliver.

Even though the decision is understandable for basketball and financial reasons, it’s a sad moment for Lakers fans who hoped to say goodbye in a different way.