Derek Fisher cements status in Lakers lore with nothing but class
At the end of the most indelible game of his enduring Lakers career, Derek Fisher disappeared.
He was swallowed by the long limbs of Lamar Odom, the long embrace of Andrew Bynum, the long hair of Sasha Vujacic.
His bald head was hidden in somebody’s warmup jacket. His short arms were wrapped in somebody’s giant ones.
After both tying and winning a game that will propel his team to an NBA championship, he was immediately enveloped not by camera lights but teammates, lost not in glamour but love, the most unassuming Laker never even having a chance to pump a fist.
Don’t worry, after what happened Thursday night in front of a crowd that was stunned into silence, you’ll see him again.
After his two jaw-flooring three-pointers led the Lakers to a 99-91 overtime victory against the Orlando Magic in Game 4 of the NBA Finals, you’ll now officially be seeing him forever.
You’ll see him on the firetruck at what is almost certain to be a championship parade after the Lakers took a 3-1 lead in the series. He’ll be in the back of that truck, surrounded by a floppy hat and family, but he’ll be there.
You’ll see him in constant video replays celebrating two shots that were even bigger than his famous 0.4 bucket in the 2004 conference semifinals in San Antonio.
His first shot, with 4.6 seconds remaining in regulation, tied the score. His second shot, with 31.3 seconds left in overtime, essentially won the game.
Only on the second shot did he crack a smile. Not once did he do a victory dance. After both shots he applauded not himself, but his teammates.
You also might see him in some sort of Lakers historical display outside Staples Center one day, although if it was a proper representation, his likeness wouldn’t be in the front with Magic Johnson, it will be back by the loading dock with the rest of the working folk.
That is who he has always been. That is who he will always be.
“It’s not just about talent, it’s about character, and he’s a person of high character . . . not only in just his gamesmanship but also his intestinal fortitude,” said Coach Phil Jackson.
He was all those things Thursday on a night when, after stomping all over the Magic, he showed up at his news conference in a pin-striped suit with white designer tennis shoes and no socks.
When asked where he would rank these shots in his career -- 13 years total, 10 with the Lakers -- he laughed.
“Maybe 100, 101, something like that?” he said. “No, I mean, obviously . . . it’s at the top.”
It’s at the top because, as the Lakers walked on to the court with the ball and a three-point deficit in the final seconds of regulation, Fisher was at rock bottom.
During the game, he had missed his previous five three-point attempts. Yet he wasn’t going to stop shooting.
“You know, I have a responsibility to my team that if I’m going to be on the floor, then I have to make a difference,” he said.
A couple of facts.
During the postseason, he had been ripped by fans and media alike for being too old and slow, his most noticeable moment being a cheap shot of Houston’s Luis Scola.
Yet he wasn’t going to stop shooting.
“Now it’s age, before it was other things in terms of not being able to shoot or not tall enough,” he said. “I’ve always used those things as motivation to work even harder.”
That hard work showed in his score-tying shot, which he took quickly, almost desperately, when he saw that Jameer Nelson was backing away.
Incidentally, nice strategy Orlando, backing away when you could have fouled to prevent a three-point shot.
“I’m sure you know who the play was designed for,” Fisher said, referring to Kobe Bryant. “I noticed Jameer was backing up and backing up, and I decided to go up and shoot.”
The ball swished through, the Lakers swarmed Mickael Pietrus at the other end, his shot clanked off, and the game went into overtime.
“That’s what it’s about,” said Bryant. “That’s what the journey is about.”
Ah, but the journey was just starting, completed by Fisher winning it near the end of overtime with a Kobe-like three-pointer over the outstretched arms of a defender to give the Lakers a 94-91 lead.
After this one, he casually held his left hand halfway into the air as he backpedaled in a daze. And, yes, he smiled.
“I just sense that was the dagger,” he said.
His previously best move in these playoffs was when he gave a late sideline speech to his teammates during the fourth quarter of an eventual Game 3 victory in the conference championship series in Denver.
I wrote about the speech, and I actually received e-mails that urged Fisher to just shut up and play, but his teammates said they would never forget it.
“This is a moment in time when you can define yourself,” he told them at the time. “This was a moment when you can step into that destiny.”
On Thursday night, he lived that exact moment, stepped right into that destiny, then was swallowed by the giant embrace of a Lakers team that absolutely could not win this championship without him.
This is going to sound crazy, but even Robert Horry never hit consecutive shots this big.
“No, I definitely don’t compare myself to Robert Horry,” said the unwitting hero, laughing. “I’m quite a few rings shy of where he stands.”
Never about starring, always about winning.
Follow Plaschke at twitter.com/billplaschke.