The last time Derek Fisher came to town, he selected and sported his uniform number like a badge of honor.
“Last year, 37 was a reminder to myself and some other folks that at 37 you can still play,” Fisher said. “I didn't want to go to 38 this year even though I'm 38.”
And so he chose jersey No. 6.
It's the same number previously worn by Eric Maynor, whose departure at the trading deadline last week presented Fisher with a chance to rejoin the Thunder. But for Fisher, the number has special meaning.
This time, it's a reminder of what he's chasing, something he came oh so close to capturing last season. The number represents Fisher's pursuit of his sixth NBA championship.
“It symbolizes something for me in terms of (championship) No. 6,” Fisher said following his first practice Tuesday. “But it also symbolizes for me the reason why I'm here, to be a part of this team, and that's to help get (championship) No. 1.”
Fisher added, half-jokingly, that the number also is more of a traditional guard number than the one he would have had to wear to denote his age.
“But for sure,” Fisher said, “it kind of symbolizes and serves as motivation for myself that winning at the end of the day as a team is what this is all about.”
Fisher already is in elite company with five championships. He's one of only 25 players in NBA history to have won at least that many titles. If he adds another to his collection, Fisher would become just the 14th player to have won at least six rings.
Though Bill Russell's 11 championships rank ahead of all others, that number, six, is seen as a gold standard of sorts. It's the number of championships won by Michael Jordan, widely considered the greatest player to ever play the game.
Fisher and his former Los Angeles Lakers teammate Kobe Bryant are the only two active players with at least five championships.
Does six mean a little more?
“I think for Kobe for sure,” Fisher said. “He's arguably one of the top five, top 10 players to ever play. So I think those guys in that stratosphere, there's certain things that make them feel equal or better than the other. I don't put myself in that conversation. But of course it would symbolize a certain level of accomplishment in the totality of my career.
“It's no question that it means a lot. But that individual desire will never trump the desire to be what I need to be for the group. I would trade in my one to give (the Thunder) one. Six would mean a lot to me, but I don't want six worse than I want to help them get one.”
Scottie Pippen, Jordan's running partner, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and former Boston teammates Bob Cousy and Jim Loscutoff are the only other players with exactly six championships.
But earning his sixth ring while being a part of the Thunder's rise is something Fisher said would hold great significance for him in addition to adding another ring to his diamond-studded stable.
“When I think about this group of players, this organization, how fast things have grown and developed to be a championship-contending team, to win another one, for me personally, would be extremely gratifying.”
Much like last year, Fisher's rich history and vast experience is expected to be a boost to a Thunder roster that was the sixth youngest in the league before his arrival.
“You can't pick another player that has seen everything he has,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “If you can, tell me about him. But he's one guy that has seen everything, and he gives our guys valuable experience.”
Fisher feels the Thunder is just fine. He watched from afar as the team lost James Harden and seamlessly incorporated Kevin Martin. He's kept up with veterans via telephone and text while studying the development of the team's young players. Through it all, he's seen extraordinary progress since he played that last Finals game in June. The Thunder now has a 41-15 record, a near identical .730-plus winning percentage as the team had compiled when Fisher came aboard last year.
“For such a young team,” Fisher said, “you just have to continue to marvel at and be amazed at the level of maturity and their ability to be mentally focused on being successful day in and day out. I still see that in this team. But I also see a willingness and a desire to get better.
“For a team to make it to the NBA Finals and still see the desire to get better, knowing that there's still some unfinished business left on the table, that's refreshing and I'm humble to be a part of it.”
Thunder vs. Hornets
When: 7 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena
TV: Fox Sports Oklahoma (Cox 37/HD 722, DirecTV 679, Dish 446, U-Verse 754/HD 1754)
Radio: WWLS-FM 98.1; WWLS-AM 640
Three things to know
* This is the fourth and final meeting between the teams. Oklahoma City has defeated New Orleans by an average margin of 13.3 points.
* Hornets point guard Greivis Vasquez is a candidate for Most Improved Player, but he's averaged only seven points and 6.3 assists in this season's three games against the Thunder. He's shot just 34.8 percent in those games.
* New Orleans is 7-19 on the road this season.