“Fish was the perfect leadership partner for Kobe,” Phil Jackson writes in his book. “They had come up together as rookies and trusted each other implicitly. Derek was more patient than Kobe and more balanced in his approach to problem solving. While Kobe infused the team with his drive to win, Fish had a gift for inspiring players with his words.”
But Fisher’s impactful leadership qualities weren’t limited to that second stint. He arrived in Los Angeles with rare maturity for his age, according to long-time Lakers trainer Gary Vitti.
Heisler tells a story of Fisher’s second year in the league. The team was going through a rough patch. The chemistry was off, with some friction amid a team that featured the commanding personalities of Shaq, Kobe and Nick Van Exel.
So Fisher, at 23 years old and not yet a key rotation piece, wrote each player an individual letter, urging them to come together.
“It was pretty remarkable that a guy like that, a guy as junior as that, would take that upon himself,” Heisler recalls. “Wouldn’t feel intimidated doing it. Tells you a ton about him.”
But beyond those intangibles — which still resonate in OKC today — Fisher left a lasting on-court legacy in Los Angeles.
He’ll rightly be remembered for the big shots. The 0.4 game-winner in Game 5 of the 2004 Western Conference Finals in San Antonio. The two dagger 3s to put the Lakers up 3-1 over Orlando in the 2009 NBA Finals. The countless others.
But he was far more than a big-shot maker.
“An iron man,” Gary Vitti called Fisher. “He’s the guy you don’t have to worry about.”
In the storied history of the Lakers’ franchise, Fisher is littered throughout the record books. He’s fifth all-time in games played, ninth in minutes, second in threes and seventh in steals.
And a few months from now, likely, Fisher will pass Robert Horry for the most postseason games played in NBA history. Horry is at 244. Fisher is at 240, with 193 of those coming in the purple and gold.
“The people of Los Angeles love Derek Fisher,” Vitti said. “And I think the day that he retires and steps into that arena, that place will erupt with applause and standing ovations for him.”