06/15/2009 - 16:32
Since the Beginning: Derek and Kobe
As the buzzer sounded on Game 5 of the NBA Finals, Derek Fisher, the last Los Angeles Lakers player to touch the ball, darted toward the sideline and leapt toward his teammates.
Moments later, Fish shared an emotional hug with teammate Kobe Bryant. The two put their heads together and Kobe told Derek:
“It’s worth it, man. It’s worth it. All that work. All that hard work.”
The two smiled at each other. Countless hours of practice and effort through the last two roller coaster seasons and seven years since their last championship, in 2002, Fish and Kobe had won it again.
Derek and Kobe as the final buzzer sounded Sunday night (Getty Images).
As D-Fish and Kobe embraced following the championship win, it represented another culmination of a relationship that began when the two came to the Lakers in the 1996 NBA Draft.
Kobe was drafted by Charlotte with the 13th pick, then traded to LA for Vlade Divac and Derek was selected with LA’s pick at 24th overall.
As Roland Lazenby writes, Kobe and Fish developed a relationship from the beginning based on hard work and dedication:
“Derek Fisher was a rookie with Kobe Bryant, but Fisher was already 22, having put in four years of hard work at the University of Arkansas-Little Rock.
When I first met Fish, he was young, open-faced, and honest, with a maturity that extended far beyond his years.
“Really,” Fish told me, “we should all be the way Kobe is. We should all be working as hard as possible to be the best we can be, to make this team the best it can be.”
Still, he didn’t know quite what to make of Bryant. And Bryant, who had quickly learned not to trust anyone, was wary of him too.
Bryant, though, had a pretty simple way of looking at the world. He gauged those around him based on how hard they were willing to work.
It didn’t take Bryant long to notice that Derek Fisher, while not the most talented guy in the world, worked really, really, really hard. And that became the basis for their trust, and eventually, their friendship.
Fisher’s main talent was his ability to work really, really, really hard.
Suddenly the world wasn’t quite so lonely for Kobe Bryant. He and Fish began working out together.”
According to Kobe, many times the workouts nearly came to blows, but it all went into building the strongest bond either has ever had with a teammate, as Kevin Ding of the OC Register writes:
“Yet ever since they were Lakers rookies required to come in to practice after back-to-back games, an unofficial NBA tradition, when O’Neal was the star of the big show, they’ve built a bond Bryant describes as “unbreakable.”
“A lot of times we were the only two there, so we ended up playing full court, 1-on-1 basketball, and we were almost fighting, literally, just because we were both competitive,” Bryant said. “From that point forward I just gained so much respect for him.”
How hard they went for it in those off-Broadway plays – totally committed to self-improvement – resulted in a shared trust. Never was it more manifest than in the Lakers’ Game 4 NBA Finals victory Thursday night.”
The bond between Derek and Kobe didn’t break when Derek moved on to Golden State and Utah. They still kept in touch. But Kobe struggled when the team disbanded leaving him as a lone remnant of the three-peat, as Lazenby writes:
“I’ve often wondered over the years where Kobe Bryant would have been without Fish. They became deep friends. It’s sort of sweet to call him Bryant’s sidekick.
But Fish was the guy who embraced Bryant’s approach. They shared a vision, a work ethic and an understanding.
It stands to reason that the lowest times for Kobe with the Lakers were the years that Fisher played in Golden State and then Utah. They remained close with many phone conversations.
Bryant really didn’t get on the right track, the Lakers really didn’t get on the right track, until Fisher returned in 2007. It’s not surprising that they’ve made it to the Finals in both years since.”
When Kobe was at rock bottom and seemed to be headed out of LA, Derek was in a similar state in Utah, coping with his daughter Tatum’s illness.
Kobe and Derek, fourth title in hand (Getty Images).
So when Derek was released from his contract with the Jazz, both players needed a friend more than ever and their bond, along with the care Tatum would receive, was a driving factor in bringing D-Fish back to LA.
As Yahoo.com’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Kobe finds balance and trust in D-Fish:
“Fisher has unparalleled credibility with Kobe. He’s his balance, his intellectual equal, a bond born of Lakers history and histrionics. No one else on these Lakers can tell Kobe to go bleep himself, and still be his confidant, his conscience. As it turned out, Fisher became something else on Thursday night: Kobe’s championship redemption.
“None of us can just expect that Kobe is going to save us,” Fisher said.
Two years ago, when Bryant was losing his mind in the summer of discontent, Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak brought Fisher back to be a conciliatory presence. The championship dynasty of the early decade had been disbanded, but Bryant needed Fisher to keep him balanced, keep him honest. And when he needed him the most, Fisher didn’t let him down.”
So when Kobe was being doubled up and down the court on Thursday night and the Lakers needed another savior, he went to D-Fish, because, where else would he go?
“He’s grown, he’s grown up,” Fisher said, as quoted in the OC Register. “He’s doing everything that we could ever ask him to do in terms of leading the team … trying to be the type of guy that guys will follow as opposed to just dominating performances by himself.”
Kobe’s pass to D-Fish showed not only how much he’s grown, but also the trust he has in No. 2:
“We know each other like the back of our hand,” Bryant said. “I know where he’s going to be before he even gets there. I can throw a pass blindfolded to him and I know exactly where he’s going to be just because we’ve been playing together for so long.”
Together for so long they now each have four rings to show for it, and one unbreakable friendship.
Kobe, Fish share something unbreakable (OC Register, June 13, 2009)
Without a signature move, Kobe wins a title (OC Register, June 15, 2009)
Fisher – sidekick to the greatest grocery guy that ever lived (Lakernoise, June 13, 2009)
Kobe Bryant Practice Interview (LA Times Lakers Blog, June 14, 2009)
The Fish that saved L.A. and Kobe (Yahoo.com, June 12, 2009)
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