The Fisher King
Derek Fisher returns to Los Angeles. In a Thunder uniform.
There was no denying the hype surrounding the return of Derek Fisher to his old stomping grounds on Thursday night. In an Oklahoma City Thunder uniform and wearing what appeared to be a rather odd looking No. 37 jersey to most Los Angeles Lakers fans in attendance, he was in some all too familiar surroundings once again at Staples Center.
Only this time around, Fisher was the opponent.
He was in the building to face his former team.
An initial glance at the numbers in the box score reveals that Fisher did not do a whole lot in terms of leading the Thunder to a 102-93 victory. Seven points in 16 minutes off the bench does not necessarily qualify as a stat-sheet-stuffing effort. His presence, however, meant more to the Thunder than perhaps meets the eye, at least initially.
And apparently, Fisher not wearing a Purple and Gold uniform for the Lakers affected Kobe Bryant & Co. a bit more than they’d like to admit.
SLAMonline was in the house to witness Fisher’s highly-anticipated return to Los Angeles unfold.
“Derek is doing a great job for us,” said Kevin Durant in the locker room afterward. “He’s leading, being vocal every day, at shoot-a-rounds, practice, before and after games. It’s big for us. He’s helping us out a lot as a veteran. We enjoy having him around.”
As most already know, the 37-year old Fisher was involved in a recent trade to the Houston Rockets. In a round-a-bout way, without going into great detail, the deal brought the 25-year old Ramon Sessions to the Lakers from the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Out with the old, in with new, apparently. We’re guessing an aging Fisher had wore out his welcome in Los Angeles. With the somewhat surprising move, he was gone. So were his five championship rings with the Lakers in 13 memorable seasons.
That is, of course, until he made his way back to Staples Center on Thursday. Determined not to cause a commotion, Fisher entered the building before the opening tip and walked down a long corridor, right past the Lakers locker room, without so much as a flinch.
The media, myself included, huddled around the Thunder locker room. Everyone was ready to pounce on Fisher. Most were in search of answers. Rightfully so considering the extenuating circumstances surrounding Fisher’s recent travels.
The questions would have to wait, however. Fisher first proceeded to the court for warm-up drills. A press conference was held half an hour later.
“First and foremost, I’m just excited to be back in the city and excited to see my friends and brothers, that I considered my teammates, when I was here,” Fisher said. “It’s only been a couple weeks but it seems so much longer. This city, these fans, and everyone that I grew close to over the years, this place will always, always hold a very special place in my heart and that will never change.
Nevertheless, the trade did not sit well with many, particularly Lakers fans.
The Thunder faithful, on the other hand, most likely did not complain much.
The path to Oklahoma City was paved when Fisher and the Rockets reached a buyout agreement. He chose to forgo the $3.4 million option on his contract for next season and now could be the missing piece of the puzzle for the a Thunder team on the verge of making a prolonged postseason run. Odds are, the Lakers likely never envisioned him landing there.
One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.
“Due to a number of different circumstances, I’m in Oklahoma City now and I’m extremely happy to be here,” Fisher said to close out his pre-game press conference. “I’ve kind of been through this dress rehearsal before a few times with a couple different teams. So, although it’s different, obviously different compared to what I’ve been through the last four-five years, it’s a game. I play for the other team now and I’m looking forward to getting out there and competing tonight.”
Prior to the opening tip, the Lakers displayed a bit of class and showed some video footage of Fisher from over the years. He received a standing ovation, well over a minute long. Even long-time Lakers backer Jack Nicholson got in on the act. Fisher acknowledged the fans with a couple of waves to the jam-packed arena.
The crowd, remember, responded in a similar fashion when Fisher came back to Los Angeles after brief pit-stops along the way with the Utah Jazz and and Golden State Warriors. Once a crowd favorite, always a crowd favorite.
“I think him coming back for a second stint with us, and the championships that we won, it makes it a little bit more special than him coming back with the previous teams,” Bryant said in the Lakers locker room after the game to a hoard of reporters.
What about some of Fisher’s highlights before the game started?
“I didn’t want to watch it. I didn’t want to look at it,” Bryant said.
Can’t imagine the Lakers are going to want to see the highlights from the Fisher festivities on Thursday either, especially when it comes to the second quarter.
He scored seven consecutive points over the course of a 2:18 stretch. A double-digit lead dwindled for the Lakers, unfortunately. Fisher wasn’t needed the rest of the way. Durant and Russell Westbrook took over from there and finished with a combined 57 points.
The only suspense left in the closing minutes of the fourth quarter was: Who was going to receive the most love from the media after the game? If you guessed Fisher, a pat on the back is well-deserved.
“It’s extremely refreshing and enjoyable to play on a team that’s really not playing with any additional pressure to have to do anything,” Fisher said in the Thunder locker room after the game. “We’re showing up every night, having fun and playing the game. I just made the most of the circumstances I was placed in, and I’m very happy with the decision I made.”
Turns out, Fisher’s return to Los Angeles was worth the wait.
Lucky for the Thunder.
Not so much for the Lakers.