Derek Fisher On His Favorite Titles, the Current Lakers, and Kobe

The former Lakers point guard discusses his sweetest NBA championships, how far this year’s Lakers can go, and his favorite Kobe Bryant story.

Former NBA guard Derek Fisher won five championships during his 18-season playing career, all with the Los Angeles Lakers. He was part of the three-peat Lakers team in the early 2000s and the back-to-back title team of the late 2000s. He and his backcourt mate Kobe Bryant were the only members of all five of the title teams.

The Lakers went through some memorable battles for all those five championships. But which ones stood out for Fisher?

“That’s probably a tie between our 2001 team and our 2009 team,” said Fisher after he had just finished conducting a coaching clinic for Jr. NBA Philippines at the Reyes Gym. “I think in 2001, I think that was the peak of those teams that was the best. The best we could possibly be.

I don’t know if there have been many teams that have played at that level for an entire postseason the way we did in 2001.

“And then in 2009, it was a different version of our team. Learning how to win without Shaq’s dominance. And then, you know, Paul Gasol coming into our team. Different personalities. We played a lot faster. And so, it was a more enjoyable style, I think, compared to the earlier teams.”

The 2001 Lakers struggled with injuries in the regular season, including Fisher who played in only 20 regular-season games. But they hit another gear in the post-season, where they went 15-1 en route to the title. Their lone loss was in overtime in Game 1 of the Finals against the Philadelphia 76ers.

The 2009 Lakers went 65-17 in the regular season, with Fisher starting in all 82 games. They were challenged somewhat in the playoffs after the Houston Rockets took them to seven games in the Western Conference semifinals and the Denver Nuggets took two games in the conference finals, but they brushed aside the Orlando Magic in five games in the finals.

As for this season’s Lakers, Fisher thinks they’re peaking at the right time, even as they’re headed for a collision course with the defending champs.

“I think in the last month, month and a half, other than the couple games that Anthony Davis missed due to the eye injury, I don’t know if anybody record-wise has been better than what the Lakers have been in recent weeks.

“Their chances against the Nuggets, we have to see, I guess. I mean, we can’t base it on last year’s results. I know that. I do believe, just like the Lakers are a little bit different than they were last year. I think the Nuggets are also slightly different as well. Their personnel is different. They have some young guys that they’re going to be relying on this year that were not the guys that they had to rely on last year.

“So obviously I’m biased. I want the Lakers to be successful, of course. But the best part about it is we’re going to get to see it. And regardless of what we think, they’ll start playing Saturday or Sunday and I do expect it to be a great series.”

More than LeBron or AD, though, Fisher believes point guard D’Angelo Russell will be the key to the Lakers’ postseason fortunes.

D’Angelo has taken his game to another level. I think he’s evolved as a person and as a man.

He’s enjoying playing the game of basketball, I think, differently than he did the first time he played for the Lakers. I personally believe even, even in the game against the Pelicans, his timely three-point shooting, his confidence, his swagger.

“Those are all things that the Lakers are going to need against the Nuggets. Obviously LeBron and AD make everything kind of go. But D’Angelo is, to me, the X factor that gives the Lakers a chance to actually contend for a championship. If he’s playing well, they’re hard to beat.”

NBA dreams for Pinoys

When asked if it would be easier for a Filipino coach to make it to the NBA instead of a Filipino player, Fisher gave some advice for both.

“I don’t know if one will come before the other, necessarily. It’s about talent as far as the players. There are probably more coaches that are coaching that have an opportunity to continue to grow than maybe currently today.

“I don’t know how many young players are going to be NBA-capable in the next few years. But, the game is continuing to grow all over the globe. And I don’t know if there’s any particular thing that has to happen in order for it to happen for players.

“I think players, the NBA, the academies that the NBA is growing all over the world, the international competitions, NBA teams and executives are scouting players from all over the world at all times.”

Derek Fisher conducted a coaching clinic for J.r NBA Philippines at the Reyes Gym. (Photo by Sid Ventura)

Fisher added that before even dreaming of making it to the NBA, players need to be taught to be disciplined.

“Whether it’s a Filipino player, specifically, or any player, discipline oftentimes only goes to practicing your shooting or practicing your ball-handling and being really disciplined at basketball skills. That part is a given. If you want to be a professional basketball player, you have to be good at basketball.

“But I think that there’s a discipline in showing up on time. There’s a discipline in being coachable. Uh, there’s a discipline in being a great teammate. There’s a discipline in wanting others to be successful, sometimes more so than yourself, which is part of being a great teammate.

“Those are skills that we don’t talk about as much that we need to be disciplined in.

and I think for Filipino players and players all over the world, you’re not going to necessarily make it to the NBA to become a 20-point scorer. You’re going to make it to the NBA for a lot of other things that require discipline, and some of those things that I listed are really vital.

“In terms of coaches, it’s a smaller fraternity, so to speak. And so finding ways to build relationships with other coaches that work either in the pro game or in the college game. Those are really important aspects of it.

“Coaches are busy, but I think they love to share. So, whether it’s through social media or whether it’s through….obviously emailing coaches directly is not an easy thing to do.

But reaching out to coaches and letting them know that you’re following them, you’re supporting their school or their team and keeping them up to date on the things that you’re working on. You never know when it’s going to reach their desk at the right time.”

On Kobe

Fisher and Bryant both joined the Lakers as rookies in 1996, and they eventually shared backcourt duties for several seasons. They had a special bond that extended beyond the court. When asked about his favorite Kobe story, Fisher turned philosophical.

“The only story to me that really, I guess, matters…I mean, there’s a bunch of them. But one of the things that Kobe shared, we were just talking, kind of personally about life and different things.

“We didn’t really (talk), unless it was practice, you know, we were watching film. I mean, we talked basketball, of course, but we often just talked. And we were talking about family and kids and life. And he said something that kind of struck me and then also altered my perspective on decision making around what you want to get out of life personally and professionally.

“And he said there was a point in his life where he started thinking about every decision that he made. The consideration he had to make is how is this going to impact my daughters 20 years from now?

“And if you think about that just for a moment as a man, as a husband. As a father. If you really start to think about every decision you make, how it’s going to impact your children 20 years later. Probably, it will impact the decisions that you make. And I think that one stands out to me more than anyone else.”

Banner Image by Sid Ventura.

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