How Derek Fisher Became a Household Name: Putting Team Over Individual Success

By Jonah Sharf

Derek Fisher is a five-time NBA champion and has made some of the most clutch shots in Los Angeles Lakers history. Whether it’s making a shot with 0.4 seconds left against the Spurs or making incredible threes and three point plays against the Celtics in the Finals, he has made unbelievable shots in unimaginable situations.

Despite the clear successes he has had throughout his career, skeptics have always criticized Fisher throughout his career for his lack of athleticism (and another fault in his game here). This was never anything new for D-Fish—from a young age, he was never as tall or naturally gifted as the other players on the court.

Fisher’s lack of height and natural athletic abilities compared to some of the players he played with throughout his career never stopped him from making an impact on the game in any way possible.

“Not having ever been as tall, naturally gifted, [or] athletic as a lot of great athletes are, that was my advantage,” Fisher said. “ I was going to outwork everybody else even if they were theoretically better than me, I was going to level the playing field by outworking them.”

Fisher ended up making the impact on championship teams that he did because he worked so hard, impressing basketball legends like his longtime coach Phil Jackson and his teammate and draft classmate Kobe Bryant—who even went as far as to call him one of his favorite teammates.

He didn’t stop at just working hard to become a player everyone wanted on their team, but he also became a leader that coaches could trust to take the reins of the team. Part of it was that he played point guard, the position that naturally becomes a leader on most teams, but he also learned from losing big games in state tournaments at an early age how much being a part of a winning team atmosphere meant to him.

“Some of those early experiences for me taught me that team success was more gratifying for me than individual success,” Fisher said. “So there was a shift for me early on that [changed] my focus and perspective, and being a Magic Johnson fan as a kid, I had so much fun making sure my team had everything that it needed, and I didn’t have to be the star.”

Fisher always made sure to adapt his game to whatever would make the team the most successful, so when Phil Jackson became the Lakers’ head coach and brought his signature triangle offense strategy to the team, he made sure to work on his shooting to fit the system.

While adapting his game to the system and playing with a great system like the triangle was important to the Lakers’ winning ways, the camaraderie the team had with each other was just as vital.

“The culture and the connection and the commitment to each other as men is really what was the key to our success, not just the triangle offense,” Fisher said. “If you go back and watch those teams play, we weren’t winning games on perfect triangle offense execution, we were winning games because we cared about each other and we loved each other.”

Fisher couldn’t be a stronger advocate for the way he learned how to play the game and how the Lakers of the early and late 2000s played. If players or teams want to be successful, no matter what level of natural ability one has, they have to be willing to work hard to maximize that potential. He also preaches the importance of knowing one’s role on a team and being willing to commit to a smaller part on a team if it will help the overall success.

Fisher also thinks that it is important to teach young players the ways of the game and invest time in all young athletes, whether they’re the next Kobe or Candace Parker or not. In his mind, everyone deserves a chance to be mentored and coached—after all, if he wasn’t given the time he was by his coaches, he might not have had the opportunity to make such an impact on such incredible teams throughout his career.

“I think that’s the difference between a smart player and a gifted player,” Fisher said. “A lot of gifted players don’t end up making it as far as they could have if they had been a little smarter.”

 

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