The undersized, underappreciated guard from Little Rock, Ark., was forced to come off the bench his junior year of high school.
By his senior year, Derek Fisher was a starter, but certainly not a star.
Seven eventual Division I players were on that 1991-92 Parkview team – the 35-1 Arkansas state champ that finished the season ranked fourth nationally – so Fisher naturally floated out of the spotlight.
He wasn’t the leading scorer. Didn’t get the most rebounds. Wouldn’t command the glory. But even at 17, the stocky and clutch point guard knew how to contribute to a winning culture. Still does, too, with lessons learned more than 20 years ago still paying dividends today.
On Tuesday night, in one of the more unlikely NBA success stories, Fisher will likely enter Game 5 of the Thunder-Grizzlies series at some point in the first half. And in doing so, he will pass seven-time champion Robert Horry for the most postseason games played in NBA history – 245 and counting.
“Couldn’t have imagined this,” Fisher reflected on the feat. “Couldn’t have dreamt it, couldn’t have paid Joel Silver to write it or direct it or produce it. Not in my wildest dreams.”
After a solid four-year career at Arkansas-Little Rock, Fisher was taken late in the first round of the 1996 Draft. He came in as a relative unknown, the “other guy” in a Lakers rookie class that included Kobe Bryant.
Those first few years, Fisher acted as a ready-made veteran, steady and productive when called upon, quiet and supportive when not. He quickly earned a starting role.
But as the Lakers moved into their glory years at the turn of the century, they continually tried to replace him with someone bigger, someone faster, someone more talented.
“I never got it,” long-time Lakers trainer Gary Vitti said. “I mean, we tried to put people in that position, but Fish was very successful for us. Things just worked better with him in there.”
So Fisher continued to play big minutes and have big moments. On those first three Laker title teams, he averaged 34-plus minutes and double-digits in all three playoff runs.
“Getting drafted by the Lakers and being drafted into a situation where success was priority,” Fisher said. “Winning, competing for a championship, that mentality that you had to have from Day 1. It taught me from early on, you can’t be a selfish type of player, because you’re fitting into something larger than yourself.”
He’s taken that winning mentality to every stop since, building an impeccable reputation and enviable résumé along the way.
“Unbelievable,” Al Flanigan, one of Fisher’s assistant coaches back in high school, said of his former pupil’s feat. “A dream come true for us (in Little Rock). I’m so proud of him.”
Since the 1996 season, Fisher’s 244 postseason games are more than any NBA franchise. The Lakers have played in 227, the Spurs 219, the Thunder/Sonics 101, the Bobcats eight.
“That’s greatness walking with us,” Kevin Durant said. “A guy that’s been around so many great players, won so many championships and played so many minutes. You can only marvel at that.”
Fisher has appeared in 24 more playoff games than Kobe Bryant, 30 more than Tim Duncan and 68 more than the next active player. The record will soon be his and the count is still ticking. It might be a long time before someone knocks him from that impressive pedestal.
“It wasn’t about being an All-Star, wasn’t about averaging the most points, the most minutes, the best field goal percentage,” Fisher said. “Winning was always the equalizer, it was the way for me to say to people: ‘Look at what I can do because my team won’. That’s what I carry on my chest the most. My team wins more than your team does.”
And he has played in more postseason games than you, too.
Most playoff games played in NBA history
1. Derek Fisher; 244
2. Robert Horry; 244
3. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar; 237
4. Kobe Bryant; 220
5. Shaquille O’Neal; 216
6. Tim Duncan; 214
7. Scottie Pippen; 208
8. Danny Ainge; 193
8. Karl Malone; 193
10. Magic Johnson; 190
11. Julius Erving; 189
12. Robert Parish; 184
13. Byron Scott; 183
14. John Stockton; 182
15. Dennis Johnson; 180
16. Michael Jordan; 179
17. Rasheed Wallace; 177
18. Tony Parker; 176
19. John Havlicek; 172
20. Horace Grant; 170
21. Kevin McHale; 169
21. Dennis Rodman; 169
23. Michael Cooper; 168
24. Sam Perkins; 167
25. Bill Russell; 165
Most playoff games by an active player
1. Derek Fisher; 244
2. Kobe Bryant; 220
3. Tim Duncan; 214
4. Tony Parker; 176
5. Manu Ginobili; 160
6. Ray Allen; 154
7. Chauncey Billups; 146
8. LeBron James; 141
9. Paul Pierce; 140
10. Tayshaun Prince; 137