It’s never easy saying goodbye to one of your favorite players. When you root for a team, certain players become more than a jersey, their stats, or even their contributions. They’re more than someone you hope succeeds on the court. They become, even if it’s patently illogical, part of your extended family.
This is how I’ve felt about Derek Fisher.
Through the years, D-Fish has provided me with some of my most memorable moments as a Lakers fan. The countless big shots. The moments where he’d rise to the occasion where many others would wilt. The times where he’d gather his guys in the huddle and inspire his teammates with words that only come natural to people that are born leaders. This was Derek Fisher I rooted for.
When you think about it, Fisher is one of the more unique players in recent history. He was never the best player on the team, but he was respected like he was. He was never the most skilled player but he had a knack for making the right play at the right time. He willed himself to becoming a contributing player on multiple championship teams through hard work and desire.
He became a player that superstars looked to for guidance but role players saw as one of their own. He was part player, part coach. Part clutch performer and part motivational speaker. He was an iron man on the court (not missing a game in 6 straight seasons and counting) and iron willed off it. Competitive as all get out and willing to do whatever necessary to win. This endeared him to his teammates and Lakers’ fans, despised by other fanbases, but respected all the same.
During this past off-season, he led the players union with dignity and dogged determination. He spoke of sticking together, of fighting for what was fair, and for not backing down in the face of what would surely be a deal that would be remembered as a defeat. He did this not because he necessarily wanted to, but because he was chosen to by his peers. Chosen to represent all players as the head of their union and fight for their interests.Gaining such respect doesn’t just happen on accident. It happens because of an abundance of character and leadership ability. Players from opposing teams and those that shared a locker room with him saw these qualities in him.
He was yin to Kobe’s yang of leadership style. The one that could smooth off the rough edges of a biting critique. The person that could turn a harsh phrase into a useful plan of attack to implement in the next game, on the next possession. And now, with him gone. A void must be filled. Who steps in at this point is anyone’s guess. Maybe Gasol – a player of long tenure and equal thoughtfulness is the guy. Maybe Bynum’s youthful honesty and emerging game will command the respect of his peers. And, of course, Mike Brown and Kobe will need to step in and be the guides that move this team forward.
Of course Fisher had his flaws. I mean, he’s been replaced in the lineup for real reasons and some other Laker will be looked to fill in what was missing from his game; to provide what he wasn’t in tangible production. But right now, it’s not really about harping on what he wasn’t and more about appreciating him for what he was and what he did provide. Which, for the time he wore a Lakers uniform was so much more good than bad.
It will be strange not having Fisher around. He was, for all intents and purposes, the definition of a professional. And I, for one, will miss him dearly. Though I’m sure I’m not alone there.