Sports Illustrated will announce its choice for Sportsman of the Year on Dec. 3. Here's one of the nominations for that honor by an SI writer. For more essays, click here.
On the night of May 9, 2007, Utah Jazz guard Derek Fisher walked onto the court at EnergySolutions arena in Salt Lake City. It was late in the third quarter of Game 2 of a second-round playoff series and Fisher had arrived at the arena only minutes before. The Jazz were playing the Warriors, the darlings of NBA fans after an improbable upset of the Mavericks. But, by the end of the night, Fisher had made Jazz fans of us all.
The team's unquestioned leader, Fisher inspired the Jazz and their faithful with his simple presence -- "it was Willis Reed walking in" -- observed Warriors coach Don Nelson -- and his impact swelled from there. In the final minute of the fourth quarter, Fisher hounded Warriors guard Baron Davis into a turnover, keying a dramatic Utah rally that forced overtime. In the extra session, Fisher sank the three-point shot that won the game. Then, in a televised post-game interview, he explained why he had been so late. He'd been at a hospital in New York with his 10-month old daughter, Tatum. She was having surgery on a malignant tumor in her eye.
Afterward, teammates marveled that he had shown up at all. "He didn't have to be here," said Carlos Boozer. Fisher shrugged it off. "That's what I do," he said. "It's not who I am, but it's what I do."
That clear perspective, compounded by his steady and confident action, is at the root of Fisher's worthiness as Sportsman of the Year. He never for a moment put basketball ahead of his daughter and yet he never minimized basketball's real importance to himself and his community -- a man's career and lifelong passion isn't rendered meaningless even by life-and-death stakes. Fisher, his priorities unwaveringly straight, recognized that.
When the playoffs ended, and Fisher had helped lead the Jazz to the Western Conference finals with 14 fourth-quarter points in a Game 4 win over Golden State, he announced he was ending his multiyear Utah contract so he could go and play in a city where he would have access to top-flight medical care for his daughter. When he signed with the Lakers in July for three years and $14 million, it meant that the decision to leave Utah had cost Fisher more than $6.5 million.
That, of course, is no price at all, for this: Today little Tatum Fisher is 16 months old. She has been treated at Children's Hospital Los Angeles. The aggressive and innovative method of chemotherapy Fisher and his family opted to try appears to have saved not only Tatum's life, but also her eye. The Fisher family is whole.
Fisher, president of the NBA Players' Association, is a man who, upon coming to Utah in 2006, devoted his opening press conference remarks to expressing empathy for a Salt Lake City family whose five-year-old daughter was missing. He's also a player with three championship rings (won in L.A.), and he has always been a class act. Never has he been classier than this year, when he showed everyone how a true Sportsman behaves.
Agree with this selection? Give us your pick for Sportsman here.