Derek Fisher: The Final Bow

Photo: LA Times
Photo: LA Times /

Watching Derek Fisher play to a minus-18 in 26 minutes during Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals was heartbreaking. Perhaps more painful was that he buoyed the Thunder offense in the first half—a situation even head coach Scott Brooks was appalled with—and canned four 3-pointers en route to his highest scoring performance this season.

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Seriously, it had been 377 days since he scored more than 16 points. Fisher sunk all four free throws, generated two steals—hell, he even grabbed two rebounds.

As if pulled by some biological imperative, Fisher embodied the consummate offensive gear that took the Los Angeles Lakers to a three-peat more than a decade ago…but the 39-year-old still played a minus-18.

"Success comes from the ability to handle failure and mistakes."

Games 2 and 3 brought more of the same: minus-5, minus-2. Fisher’s slide in usage has manifested over the past decade. It now feels like we’re watching wounded pride at a local rec center.

The past few seasons have grown increasingly arduous for Fisher. For a while, it seemed as though he was immunized against the language of self, forgetting who he was beneath the jersey. This season, Fisher realized he no longer wants to continue tumbling into the void. His cracking knees and fatigued lungs now dwarf his basketball IQ. His generously listed 6-foot-1 frame has lost its man-child ruggedness of the mid-‘90s and has ballooned into a defensive liability no team can bear.

Derek Fisher’s career will likely end this season. A reflection on D-Fish’s legacy, one isn’t defined by gaudy statistics, but by humility and professionalism.

The end of this season assuredly spells the end of the road for Fisher (ESPN reports), and that’s okay. Collectively, we need it to end. He has nothing left to prove. We have nothing left to gain.

"I understood at a young age that, no matter what it was I was doing, it took an extremely large amount of work to be good at it."

Thursday night will be Fisher’s 257th playoff game, the most all-time. The guy has missed the playoffs just twice since his start in the league in ‘96. Two times. There are players who never make a playoff run let alone hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy. Fisher has done both in spades, and has manufactured quite the resume after 17 years: 5x NBA Champion (2000-2002, 2009-10), NBA Shooting Stars Champion (2004).

In the coming weeks, Fisher—in his traditional self-effacing way— will save the league from jettisoning him. He’ll cut his own cord, as a true professional that leaves an indelible mark on the game does. If there existed a metric for class, Fisher would sit atop its throne.

"I think the people you’re trying to get to follow you have to see you’re unwavering in your strength, positive attitude and ability to fight through adversity and struggles. That’s something I take pride in: my ability to keep a still chin even when things aren’t going great."

We’ll always have the unforgettable memories he gave us, enough to create an ESPN Classic marathon.


There’s Derek Fisher hitting arguably the most unlikely shot of the last two decades against the Spurs. There’s Derek Fisher using the remaining 0.4 seconds in Game 5 of the ’04 NBA Finals to hurl his body away from the basket and simultaneously chuck up a prayer. 

There’s Derek Fisher in ’05 making the most of his disappointing two-season term with the Golden State Warriors, ripping the nets from beyond the arc to beat the Bucks at the buzzer. 

There’s Derek Fisher racing to catch a game that’s already started, and sprinting into EnergySolutions arena in Salt Lake City after his daughter’s successful surgery. There’s Fisher entering the game late to a standing ovation and hitting the clutch corner 3 in overtime of the 2007 NBA Playoffs to ice the Warriors.

There’s Derek Fisher burying a shot in Jameer Nelson’s grill in the final seconds to send it to overtime. There’s Derek Fisher subsequently winning Game 4 of the ’09 NBA Finals with a 3-pointer to send the Orlando Magic into a 1-3 series hole they wouldn’t climb out of. 

There’s Derek Fisher sprinting past Eric Gordon – who’s a toddler in comparison – on the game-winning layup to beat the Clippers in 2010. 

There’s Derek Fisher racing down court like the Energizer Bunny in the final minute of Game 2 of the 2010 NBA Finals. There’s Derek Fisher paying no attention to the world holding its breath as he fearlessly attacks Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, and Glen “Big Baby” Davis head-on. 

What’s polarizing for Fisher is that unlike, say, Steve Nash, his body hasn’t broken down by injury. He’s tallied his share of wounds and setbacks, but he’s been incredibly blessed in that respect. Even his numbers haven’t drastically diminished; Fisher has been the counterargument to John Hollinger’s PER system for a while now. However, his body is breaking down because that’s what happens to your ankles when you’ve played nearly 1300 regular season games, 32,719 minutes, and you’re about to turn 40 in less than 100 days.

If a career is only as strong as the moments that carved it, Derek Fisher should be happy regardless of what happens next. And maybe that’s precisely what made him so special in the first place, Fisher has always been happy in a profoundly human way. In the 1996 NBA Draft—one that included Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Allen Iverson, Ray Allen, and Jermaine O’Neal—Fisher was taken No. 24. It didn’t matter that he hailed from a university that has only sent six to the NBA; Fisher manufactured himself into a future Hall of Famer.

"Our success is not defined by external forces. Our success is defined by ourselves and our spirit, our heart, our faith. There isn’t anyone on Earth who can impact that or change it. It’s up to us individually to be successful."

He appears destined to land a coaching position in the next calendar year, just as fellow veteran Jason Kidd did this past year. Sources have leaked the possibility to him taking command of the New York Knicks—a move that would realign him with his former coach Phil Jackson. It seems highly unlikely for Fisher to not be a fixture in the league for the foreseeable future. And the notion that he won’t amount to a great coach or team executive is unenlightened at best.

If Fisher has taught us anything, it’s that he refuses to nosedive.

Photo: Yahoo! Sports
Photo: Yahoo! Sports /

Fisher won’t be remembered for his marksmanship or the few all-time metrics where he holds a top 50 spot. Nobody will recall his propensity for the pick-and-roll or his career field-goal percentage that quivers just below 40 percent, slotting him in the mediocre tier. It’s fitting in a way, that numbers cannot do him justice. Fisher will be remembered as a playmaker, leader, and integral component in every team he ever came into contact with. Even the past few seasons in Oklahoma City have allowed Fisher to mentor blooming guards like Reggie Jackson and Russell Westbrook.

We will remember the three-peat. We will remember the 48 three-pointers he made in the NBA Finals, second only to former teammate Robert Horry’s 56. We will reminisce about the years when the league’s level of play was elevated by Fisher, Bryant, O’Neal, Horry, and Fox. We will remember how the purple, white, and yellow hues permeated a nation on its way into the new millennium.

One of my first memories of basketball was watching Fisher embody the oppositional forces of determination and care; rawness and precision. I watched Derek Fisher parlay willpower into a career—professionalism and guidance that will eternally live on. To me, that seems worth remembering.


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