Derek Fisher Takes His Final Bow

photo credit: Keith Allison via photopin cc

 A reflection on Derek Fisher’s career, one that changed the game forever. Saying goodbye on his terms.

Watching Derek Fisher play to a minus-18 in 26 minutes during Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals was depressing. Perhaps more depressing was that he buoyed the Thunder offense in the first half – a situation even Scott Brooks was appalled with – and canned four 3-pointers en route to his highest scoring performance this season. Fisher sunk all four free throws, generated two steals – hell, he even grabbed two rebounds. He was pulled by some biological imperative and the 39-year-old still played a minus-18.

Success comes from the ability to handle failure and mistakes.

It isn’t that his hubris can’t take it anymore, he’s seen us grimacing enough that he feels like wounded pride at a local rec center.

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

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.

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

Wednesday night will be Fisher’s 255th 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. What Fisher has manufactured out of a career is astonishing: 5x NBA Champion (2000-2002, 2009-10), NBA Shooting Stars Champion (2004).

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.

Soon, Fisher will save the league from jettisoning him. He’ll cut his own cord. Fisher is the closest thing the NBA has to a true professional.

Even when he’s gone, we’ll always have the unforgettable memories he gave us.

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 been broken down by injury. He’s tallied his share of wounds and pains, but he’s been incredibly blessed in that regard. 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. He appears destined to land a coaching position in the next calendar year. Probably with the New York Knicks, a move that would realign the coach-player relationship with Phil Jackson that won him his titles. Most likely, Fisher will be a much-needed fixture in the league for the foreseeable future. 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.

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 won’t be remembered for his marksmanship or his top 50 spot on numerous all-time metrics. Nobody will recall his pick-and-roll propensity or the 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. We will remember the three-peat. We will reminisce about the years when the league’s level of play was elevated by Fisher, Bryant, O’Neal, Horry, and Fox. The purple, white, and yellow hues that permeated a nation on its way into the new millennium.

photo credit: Keith Allison via photopin cc

photo credit: Keith Allison via photopin cc

What I will remember is he embodied the oppositional forces of determination and care, rawness and precision. Derek Fisher parlayed willpower into a career – one that will eternally live on.

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Don’t forget to check out this brilliant Derek Fisher interview on Success.com as well.

Josh Planos

Written by

Josh Planos hopes to one day write about sports like the millennial version of Cormac McCarthy; he's working on it. His work has been featured at Washington Post, Denver Post, ESPN TrueHoop Network, SB Nation, Bleacher Report, Buckets Magazine, and Rivals. Currently, he writes for Washington Post Sports, BallerBall of the ESPN TrueHoop Network, FanSided, and The Pick and Roll. He loves interacting with readers via Twitter. Leads can be sent to jplanos1@gmail.com | Portfolio: josh-planos.squarespace.com | Tweets by @JPlanos

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