The NBA's greatest frontman and his favorite backup singer stood together on a crowded hardwood floor, cameras whirring and lights flashing, their hands gently placed on the same basketball for a pose they have been practicing for years.
Phil Jackson and Derek Fisher shared the sideline for nine seasons with the Lakers, shared their wisdom with a team that became a champion, shared that glory with fans who became like family.
Together they once stood, PJ and D-Fish, following each other off the floor in San Antonio after Point-Four, celebrating after his two treys broke backs in the Finals in Orlando, hugging after Fisher's floor-length Finals layup in Boston. Together they won five championships, PJ and D-Fish, one tall and crooked, the other short and stout, two completely different souls who were symbolic of a singular Lakers heart.
And now the last remaining bits of that heart have been broken, as the two men were standing Tuesday morning in a suburban New York City gym in front of a New York Knicks logo, thus officially ending a Lakers era on the other side of the Earth.
When Fisher was introduced by Jackson as the new Knicks' head coach, it felt like the lock was finally clicking on a door that has long since closed. The Lakers haven't won a title since 2010, Jackson was gone in 2011, Fisher hasn't been on the team since 2012, but their appearance together here ended all crazy hope of any Lakers reunification and resurrection.
It's over, it's been over, all that is left is for Kobe Bryant to hand the keys to the next guy. Everyone has long known this, but it was nonetheless sadly compelling to see it confirmed at the Knicks training headquarters, where Jackson and Fisher were doing their traveling salvation show for a bunch of strangers.
"Today marks the next step of this journey for the New York Knicks franchise as we name Derek to lead the team as its head coach," Jackson announced. "Our relationship began 15 years ago, and over time it has come clear to me that he and I can form a great partnership once again."
Ouch. That relationship was all Lakers, yet their surroundings were all Knicks, and watching them revel in their new city was as awkward as happening upon old neighbors having dinner with new friends.
"I look forward to sharing my experience with my players and helping to reestablish a championship culture," said Fisher.
Ouch again. Though Fisher also spent time with Golden State, Utah, Dallas and most recently Oklahoma City, 99% of those experiences came with the Lakers, and it was bittersweet to watch him begin using them elsewhere.
Not that the Lakers should have hired Fisher to fill their current vacancy. That wouldn't have worked. The new Lakers coach must be strong enough to objectively handle Kobe Bryant during what is certain to be a tumultuous end of his career, and Fisher is too close to Bryant to make that happen. The new Lakers coach must also be experienced enough to having staying power into the new post-Kobe era, and the newbie Fisher would surely be questioned and tested from the first tip. Fisher is the sort of guy the Lakers should attempt to hire three years from now if he's been successful with the Knicks. He not the sort of guy they can afford right now.
Still, that didn't make it any less odd to see him beginning a new chapter of his life with another Lakers great who should have been rehired. (Oh wait, that's right, sorry, Jeanie Buss said there were no openings for Phil Jackson.)
"They very informally kind of reached out to me, we didn't have a formal interview or a formal sit-down," Fisher said of the Lakers. "What I expressed to them is that if they wanted to have a formal sit-down, we could do that, but that with my relationship with Phil and the conversations we had thus far, unless they were very serious about sitting down and talking, there's not much to talk about."
Fisher appeared irked at his perceived Lakers involvement in an L.A. Times story by Mike Bresnahan that reported the Lakers were not interested in Fisher because he didn't have enough coaching experience.
"I was surprised … they made the announcement they wouldn't pursue me or ever intended to," said Fisher. "I never really tried to compare the two opportunities. This was an opportunity that spoke to me right away."
The opportunities couldn't be compared, not because the Lakers job is so much better than the Knicks job, but because it's probably just the same, and that's the saddest part of all. The lights kept flashing, the questions continued, and the Lakers drifted farther and farther away. Fisher spoke as powerfully as he once did during Lakers timeouts, but he's somebody else's leader now. Jackson spoke softly and sparingly while dressed in familiar blazer, rumpled dress shirt and tennis shoes, but he's somebody else's brilliant uncle now.
Meanwhile, back in Los Angeles, the guess is that the Lakers are going to turn to Byron Scott to lead them out of their current mess. And though he hasn't worn a Lakers uniform for 17 years, he will at least be a popular transition into their new world.
Meanwhile, the heart of the old world still spins, but it's spinning on a different coast, it's somebody else's world now, PJ and D-Fish together again, chasing championships again, 3,000 miles from home.
Twitter: @billplaschkeCopyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times