Kobe Bryant, Derek Fisher share a competitive mind-set
Soon enough, the contact shut off.
Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher stopped trading text messages. They stopped wishing each other luck in their respective playoff series. They stopped reminiscing about old times and catching up on new ones.
No, there wasn’t a falling-out between the two former longtime teammates who won five NBA championships together. This is just what happens as the two have suddenly become opponents. This happened previously when Fisher played for Golden State (2004-06) and Utah (2006-07) before rejoining the Lakers. But with Fisher joining the Oklahoma City Thunder shortly after the Lakers traded him this season to Houston, the two are opposing each other in the playoffs for the first time in their 16-year careers.
So three days before the Lakers-Thunder Western Conference semifinals series began, they stopped talking.
“We’ve kind of gone to our respective corners,” Fisher told reporters, including the Oklahoman newspaper’s Berry Tramel. “I think it’s necessary because of our personal history and what we’ve accomplished together. In order for us to do what we need to do for our teams, we need to go into our space.”
Ever since the Lakers traded Fisher before the March 15 trade deadline, both he and Bryant have showed they value competitiveness over sentimentality toward other. Bryant professed to 710 ESPN radio that he planned to “demolish” Fisher during his March 29 return to the Lakers. The moment he came off the bench in that game, Fisher opened his first possession by guarding Bryant, as illustrated above, with a forearm.
That competitiveness continued in the Lakers’ 119-90 Game 1 loss Monday to the Thunder. When Fisher checked into the game, Bryant briefly wrapped his arm around his former teammate’s waist and patted him on the rear before the two went their respective ways. As the Thunder nursed a 30-point lead late in the game, Fisher guarded Bryant as he missed a turnaround jumper on the baseline. That was one example of Bryant’s 20-point effort on seven-of-18 shooting featuring a few difficult looks. Still, Bryant insisted to ESPN Los Angeles’ Dave McMenamin that “Derek can’t guard me, man. He was calling for help.”
Meanwhile, Fisher’s five points on a two-of-eight clip, two assists, two steals, zero turnovers and a blocked shot surpassed the Lakers’ total point-guard production from Ramon Sessions (two points, one-of-seven shooting, two assists, one turnover) and Steve Blake (zero points, four assists, two turnovers). One of Fisher’s baskets was a three-pointer with 19.3 seconds left that prompted him to glance over at his former teammates. He later told reporters he didn’t have a subtle message.
Still, it marked the competitive level the two former teammates have.
“You compete with your brother,” Bryant said before the series started. “Somebody has got to win, you rather it be you. Somebody has got to have bragging rights in the summertime.”
Bryant and Fisher used to fight for those same bragging rights when they practiced against each other dating to their rookie season in 1996. In his autobiography, Fisher recalled how the two rookies usually played one-on-one against each other long after their teammates had left practice. One time, the they nearly came to blows over their physical play. Neither made the first punch, Fisher recalled, but neither appeared ready to back down, either.
“Fortunately, it didn’t come to our punching each other,” Fisher wrote. “We let it drop, and I think we both looked at each other a little bit differently after that. We had tested each other and we’d both passed and earned each other’s respect.”
A competitive bond was forged.
It ensured a close friendship and mutual respect despite Bryant’s superior talent. Now that they’re not teammates, however, it’s expressed through minimal contact until the series ends.
“Your brother oftentimes was the recipient of some of the hardest blows you ever delivered,” Fisher told the Oklahoman’s John Rohde. I’m sure he’s planning to deliver quite a few and I’ll be ready to deliver some as well and it’s going to be fun to just have to compete against the best.
“But at some point,” Fisher later said, “we’ll reconnect and be what we always will be, and that’s brothers.”
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