Originally published in SLAM 54

In magazine production, like in sports, timing is everything. And when we decided to do The Elementals back in issue 52, Derek Fisher was the furthest player from our minds. After all, he was hurt—there was no telling whether he would even come back—and the Lakers didn’t seem to need any more help seeing that Shaq and Kobe were back on speaking terms.

So, the issue goes to press, and before it even hits the stands, the Elementals starts to fall. Donyell Marshall—out in the first round. Derek Anderson—out early in the second (thanks, Juwan). Jason Williams—out of control and swept under the rug. By the time our subscribers in the far reaches got their hands on the mag (hello, Ghana!), everyone except Tim Thomas was sitting home wondering what happened.

Meanwhile, Derek Fisher was back in a major way. That whole time off he spent working on his stroke, it showed. He drained threes like Chris Mullin used to, the basic beauty of his lefty release almost offsetting that ugly earwarmer—we mean headband. The basket looked like an ocean, Derek looked like Milla Jovovich (The Fifth Element, dig?) and we, uh, looked like idiots.

All Elements down, Derek Fisher was in the Finals. Guarding AI, MVP. ‘96 Draft No. 1 versus ‘96 Draft No. 24. The first game was ugly—final score AI 48, D Fish, zip. The Lakers got blown, undefeated streak got snapped, and Derek may have wanted to use that headband to cover his eyes as well as his ears.

Instead, he took the heat. Came out for Game Two reborn, got started early. Then, late in the third, he caught one on the break, AI trailing. As D Fish elevated for the lay-in, AI went up with him, anticipating the rejection. Bad timing.

Russ Bengtson