As this latest potential Lakers dynasty rounds into shape, I got to thinking about one of the most beloved players from the team’s last three-peat bid—Rick Fox. The former UNC grad was a critical component of three championship squads and will always be remembered fondly for his seven years of service with the forum blue and gold. While this current Lakers group relies on the likes of Derek Fisher for locker room leadership, the Lakers teams at the beginning of the decade had several savvy veteran leaders with which to rely—and none with a smile brighter than Mr. Cool, Calm and Collected.
In a true testament to his lasting impact during his L.A. tenure, most fans have either forgotten or are willing to dismiss the fact that Fox played the first six years of his career in Celtics green after being drafted by Boston with the 24th pick in the First Round in the 1991 NBA Draft. During his seven years with the Lakers, Foxy averaged nearly 10 points per game in 25 minutes, while also pulling down nearly four rebounds and shooting 35% from beyond the arc. Though his numbers never quite matched his 15 points per game average in his final year with the C’s in 1996-97, Rick unselfishly took a backseat on offense, recognizing his role in the team’s budding title hopes. However, Fox stepped to the forefront on defense and was one of the premier defenders at his position throughout his career.
Relive some of Fox’s greatest moments as a Laker in this fan video (Sorry for the low quality…I don’t think they had HD during Rick’s day).
His impact on and off the court can’t be measured on stat sheets though, as it was often the even-keeled Canadian small forward who served as a voice of reason when inner turmoil between Kobe, Shaq and the like threatened to derail the team’s title dreams. Like Derek Fisher, Robert Horry and Brian Shaw, Fox also had a knack for performing well in the clutch, even if he doesn’t get as much publicity for his late-game heroics as his former teammates. In fact, the Lakers might not have held on to win their first title of the new decade had it not been for Fox’s key buckets down the stretch of the deciding Game 6 of 2000 NBA Finals against the Pacers. At the end of the day, Fox was a player who was trusted by both Coach Jackson and teammates and you’d be hard-pressed to find a more consummate professional during his 13 years in the league.
Maybe even more than his leadership, fans and critics alike revered Rick for his willingness to mix it up against opponents—most notably in a 2002 pre-season game at STAPLES Center against the Sacramento Kings. Only two minutes into an exhibition game between the heated rivals, Fox and Christie jostled with one another, leading to a memorable fight in the alley on the way to the locker room—a battle that foreshadowed the teams’ epic seven-game series in that year’s Western Conference Finals. Aspiring actor or not, Rick’s grit and flare for the dramatic provided a huge spark for a team whose success hinged primarily on the play of Kobe and Shaq.
Recent additions Ron Artest and Matt Barnes undoubtedly embody a lot of Fox’s strengths, but the uncanny poise and class displayed by Rick still stand out to this day. Fox was a true winner at every level—not only leading the 1991 Tar Heels to the NCAA Final Four, but proving himself as an invaluable piece of a back-to-back-to back championship squad. Though he’s still as visible as ever off the basketball floor, his contributions on it will never be forgotten.