For L.A.'s Fisher, comebacks are in the genes
Updated: Wednesday June 06, 2001 11:29 AM
By Marty Burns, Sports Illustrated
LOS ANGELES -- As a young boy, Lakers guard Derek Fisher would tag along with his older brother, Duane Washington, to a gym near their house in Little Rock, Ark. He would dribble the ball on the sidelines and shoot baskets as Duane, a high school star who would go on to play in the NBA, ran the court with the likes of Sidney Moncrief and Darrell Walker.
"It was offseason for those guys, and they'd come back home to Little Rock," Fisher recalls. "I was too little to play, but I'd watch Duane go up against them."
Fisher now has his own NBA brushes with greatness. The 6'1" lefty has emerged this postseason like a kid from a big brother's shadow, averaging 15.1 points, 5.0 rebounds and 3.5 steals while shooting a sizzling 51 percent from 3-point range. In Game 4 of the Spurs series, he led all scorers with 28 points on 11 of 13 shooting.
"He's been playing at an All-Star level," Lakers coach Phil Jackson says.
Fisher will try to add to his burgeoning reputation beginning tonight in Game 1 of the NBA Finals. As the primary defender on Sixers guard Allen Iverson, he has the unenviable task of trying to slow down the league's MVP and scoring champ. Fisher knows the world will be watching.
"Allen's a very talented, aggressive player," Fisher says. "I just have to stay in front of him as best as possible. I'll try to make it tougher for him to score. I don't think I'll have many opportunities to relax."
Not that Fisher would take a breather anyway. He learned first-hand just how fleeting the NBA dream can be from Duane, who had a brief stint with the Nets -- where he played alongside former Syracuse star Dwayne (Pearl) Washington -- and the Clippers before losing it all to cocaine addiction. During Duane's rehab, Fisher called his brother every day to offer encouragement. Duane eventually kicked the habit and went on to a 15-year career in the CBA and Europe. Derek, meanwhile, went back to work vowing never to let it happen to him. Maybe that's why he practically "wore out the trainers," in Jackson's words, while rehabbing a stress fracture in his right foot that kept him out of the first 62 games.
With his goal to make it back for the playoffs, Fisher spent three or four hours a day, five days a week, sweating and straining at the team's practice facility. He ran in water while wearing a harness. He rode the stationary bike. He lifted weights. He shot hundreds of jumpers. "I was kind of a pain in the butt as a patient because I felt like every day counted for me," says Fisher, the Lakers' first-round pick (No. 24) in '96 out of Arkansas-Little Rock.
Even so, Fisher's comeback came perilously close to being aborted. Not wanting to perform at less than his best, he informed the Lakers that he would return this season only if he could play in at least 20 regular season games. L.A.'s team doctors had a later date in mind. "I told them I was going to sit out," says Fisher, who eventually prevailed on the team to let him come back when he wanted.
Fisher scored a career-high 28 points in his first game back, March 13 against the Celtics, and hasn't let up. Thanks in part to his tenacious defense and clutch shot-making, the Lakers are 26-5 since his return. "Derek's play has been a big part of our success," Lakers forward Rick Fox says. "He's made a huge difference for us defensively, and he's become an added threat on offense."
For Fisher, his dramatic rise to Hollywood star after four years as a role player is still hard to believe. It seems like yesterday, he says, he was just a little kid watching Duane rain jumpers at the gym back home in Little Rock and wondering if he could ever be that good. "He could flat out shoot the ball," Fisher says.
He now knows it runs in the family.