The day after the Thunder was eliminated from postseason play, Derek Fisher was forced to sit in front of a room full of reporters and figure out a way, over 20 minutes, to reflect on a 17-year career.
Naturally, one of the most gifted public speakers in NBA history delivered.
But in doing so, Fisher sounded like a man reluctantly coming to grips with the reality that, yes, even he must eventually move on.
“If you watched (Game 6 against San Antonio), my heart is definitely still in it,” Fisher said of playing. “I’m also very realistic about knowing I can’t do this forever, even if I’m physically capable of still doing it.”
The emotion with which Fisher spoke last Sunday, his eyes intermittently moist, his throat unable to shake a nagging and noticeable lump, suggested Fisher’s playing days are done and he knew it.
“For years, I’ve obviously thought about how one day I won’t be able to play and there won’t be a next (year),” he said. “Maybe that time is here.”
Three days later, Fisher reportedly had entered into preliminary discussions with friend, former coach and current New York Knicks president Phil Jackson about the Knicks’ vacant coaching job. He’s been linked to the position since Jackson relieved Mike Woodson of his duties in April.
It’s not the way Fisher envisioned moving into the next phase of his professional life. He always thought he’d take some time off, enjoy his family and then figure out what’s next. But the opportunity that has presented itself might be too good to pass up.
“In the last, I’d say, maybe decade or so, I really felt like my purpose in life or calling so to speak was to be in a leadership position or some position of impact on other people,” Fisher said. “I didn’t know if that would be (from a) philanthropic or community standpoint, in business, in management.”
Coaching offers Fisher that opportunity.
“I somehow have been gifted and blessed to positively impact other people,” Fisher said. “I didn’t know what that would look like and how that vision would kind of come to life. But coaching allows for you to positively impact other people’s lives. To help a group of people find success. Whether they’ve ever had it before, you’re all working together for a common goal.
“That’s what I’ve loved doing for 33 years as a player — first played my first organized game of basketball at the age of six — so there’s a love of helping other people that exists for me. And not playing anymore, if that’s what it’s to be, coaching or being in the front office or being in a role where you can positively impact others and work to reaching a common goal is exciting to me.”
If he’s offered and accepts the Knicks job, Fisher would become the second coach in as many seasons to go straight from playing to a head coaching job, following in the footsteps of Brooklyn coach Jason Kidd. Many questioned whether Kidd was prepared for the moment. Far less doubt exists with Fisher.
“He’s been a point guard, a guard for a lot of years,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “He’s seen a lot of basketball. I know he hasn’t coached, but he’s coached on the floor. He has a lot of qualities that will give you a chance to be successful, and the main one is he’s willing to work every day. There’s no days off. You have to earn everything you get, and you can’t ask for anything in this business. He has that mentality as a player, so I’m sure he’s going to continue to do that if he chooses to become a coach. He will be successful whatever he decides to do.”