LOS ANGELES -- Far too often in sports we're so immersed in the numbers that we really can't see what is going on in front of our eyes. We're so tuned in on percentages that we can't hear what's going on around us, so consumed with pluses and minuses and shooting charts that we can't feel the true presence of a player statistics tell us is a "liability."
Pick up a stat sheet after a Lakers playoff game and it would be easy to single out
Yet, the numbers don't tell the story of his true significance to his team. They never have.
Rarely has a player's birthplace also served to describe his role on the team the way it has Fisher's. The 6-foot-1 point guard, born and raised in Little Rock, Ark., may be the smallest and oldest (34) player on the Lakers' roster, but he has undoubtedly been the team's steadying force since returning last season to the organization that drafted him in 1996.
It is not entirely coincidence that the Lakers' return to NBA Finals last season after three lean years came with the return of Fisher, who left Los Angeles following the 2004 Finals and played two seasons in Golden State and one in Utah. Sure, there were bigger parts in motion, namely the midseason acquisition of
"Fisher's the rock of this team," Lakers forward
Fisher's statistical impact in the regular season and postseason this year has been the lowest in five years, but his effect on the team's growth and maturation has never been greater.
It was Fisher who gathered the Lakers when they were down by seven points in the fourth quarter of Game 3 of the Western Conference finals against the Nuggets in Denver and implored his teammates to fulfill their potential. "This is a moment in time when you can define yourself," Fisher told them. "This is a moment when you can step into that destiny." It's a speech teammates cite as a turning point in their postseason, as the Lakers rallied to win 103-97 to take a 2-1 series lead.
In the previous round, it was Fisher who uncharacteristically laid out
And it is Fisher who constantly works with backup point guards
"Derek is a leader, he's a spokesperson to the team," coach
As much as this current Lakers team hangs on Fisher's every word like a preacher giving a sermon, he confesses he was a different person the last time the Lakers held up the Larry O'Brien trophy, in 2002. Back then, Fisher was a 27-year-old bachelor with no kids, coming off three straight championship seasons. Now he's a 34-year-old husband and a father to four children, including one,
Tatum's condition brought Fisher and his family back to Los Angeles. He requested and was granted a release from his three-year, $22 million contract with Utah so he could sign a three-year, $14 million deal in Los Angeles to get the best treatment for Tatum, who has recovered and is doing well.
In his only season in Utah, Fisher played in every game and served as a mentor for
"It's no coincidence that he's made every team he's been on better," Lakers forward
When Fisher looks up at the championship trophies visible from the Lakers' practice court, he is reminded how elusive winning one can be. While those three earlier titles seemingly came so easy, the ultimate prize has eluded Fisher time after time as he's gotten older.
"It seems like an eternity ago," Fisher said of his last championship. "I've lived a lifetime since then and what I've been through since 2004, to not win it last year, I can't really explain the pain and frustration that comes with that and not knowing if it's ever going to happen again. I can't allow it to pass me by again."