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Fox Retires Because of Nagging Injuries

Times Staff Writer

Rick Fox, a starter on the last two Laker championship teams who had a recurring role as team facilitator in seven seasons with the franchise, retired Thursday because of health problems that have plagued him for more than a year.

Fox, traded in August to the Boston Celtics, had one year left on his contract at $5.1 million; he reached an undisclosed financial settlement with the Celtics.

Fox, 35, was slowed by foot and thumb injuries last season and, more recently, sustained bulging disks in his neck that also caused back pain. He played only 38 regular-season games last season and averaged a career-low 4.8 points. In 16 playoff games, he averaged 1.1 points.

“I gave it the effort to get my body back into the condition it needed to be [in] to play at this level,” Fox said. “Age crept up. I thought it was time to go off into the sunset.”

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Fox, who spent six seasons with the Celtics before signing with the Lakers as a free agent in 1997, played a large off-court role for the Lakers, often acting as a go-between for polarized superstars Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant.

“We had our tough times,” Fox said. “I was always the proudest in that amidst the fighting and turmoil we were able to pull together and care enough for each other and the city.”

Even with the back-to-back-to-back successes, Fox lamented that there weren’t more victory parades.

“We didn’t do as great a job of keeping our egos in check,” he said. “I thought that was the ultimate demise of us. But hopefully we learned some lessons in life from that. I know basketball has taught me a lot.”

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Fox, who said last season he would rather retire than play outside of Los Angeles, was unhappy when he was traded with Gary Payton to the Celtics for Chris Mihm, Chucky Atkins and Jumaine Jones.

Fox’s retirement announcement came less than two months after he filed for divorce from actress-singer Vanessa Williams.

Fox, who appeared in the movie “He Got Game” and had a part on the HBO series “Oz,” will begin to explore an acting career.

“We’ve got a lot of scripts coming in for him,” said Fox’s agent, Jill Smoller. “He’s doing his homework now in a similar way he put forth in his playing career. The one thing we’re going to do is be very careful about him going forward.”

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Fox also could land a job as a TV analyst.

Fox averaged 9.6 points and 25.5 minutes in 930 career games.


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