Restarting the Clock: Episode 3: Coaching in a Bubble

Andy talks with head coaches from the NBA and WNBA about how the leagues are adapting to their respective bubbles. Derek Fisher, head coach of the Los Angeles Sparks, shares his perspective on the WNBA bubble and how the Sparks are keeping social justice issues at the forefront of the conversation. Mike D’Antoni, head coach of the Houston Rockets, shares his insight from the NBA bubble, his hopes for the postseason, and some background on his career in Italy.

“But I have to give our players a ton of credit, you know, they are remaining positive focused. This is not an easy set of circumstances, but we represent something bigger than us. And these women represent so much more. Yeah. So you know, we’re gonna do our best,” Fisher said. 

“I think if you have pretty good chemistry in it, then this becomes like a fraternity house, you know…it’s a setting around swapping stories and…a shared experience that no one will forget about,” D’Antoni said. 

NBA games are scheduled to begin July 30 at the Disney World’s ESPN Wide World of Sports in Orlando. The WNBA will restart their season on July 25 at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. 

“No one knows like you said uncharted water,” D’Antoni said. “So, to me at the end of the day, it’s going to be really good competition with no distractions on the floor, and let’s go out and yeah, you know, let the better team win. And we were one of those better teams.”

Both leagues are using their reach to draw attention to the racial injustices, voting, education, and immigration reform.

“A lot of our players are at the forefront of them and we have to do our best to support them,” Fisher said.

The Sparks are a leading member of The ALLIANCE: Los Angeles. This city-wide organization brings together  11 professional sports teams with comprehensive five-year commitment to drive investment and impact for social justice through sport.

“What we say we really are trying to live out through action and supporting the right programs and organizations. I believe that if there is any ounce of positivity that can come from what we’ve been forced to deal with with COVID-19 is…this has really forced us all to look each other in the eye and realize that we actually are bound together as a community and as people,” Fisher said. “And so, I think the Alliance kind of can be a symbol of that. And hopefully we can do some great things in our life for a long time.”

In addition to fighting for social justice outside of the game, the WNBA recently announced a collective bargaining agreement victory. Fisher notes that the WNBA’s new CBA allows players larger salaries so they are not compelled to play basketball overseas in the offseason, as well as other benefits. 

Fisher was a teammate of the late Kobe Bryant and recalls his support for the WNBA and hopes for his daughter Gigi’s basketball career. Fisher remembers how he and Bryant discussed the changes in their lives after stepping off the court and how to raise daughters. 

“Honestly, like our relationship evolved from like the eight years that we played together. There was one form of the relationship and then three years that we were apart…I had no idea that the way he would impact the women’s game years later,” Fisher said.

Bryant was vocal in his support of women’s professional basketball. The WNBA recently announced the Kobe & Gigi Bryant WNBA Advocacy Award would be given annually to a “tireless advocate for women’s basketball and foster the highest levels of leadership.”

“He was very clear about his love for his daughters and wanting to create a better world for them. But I think that once Gigi kind of became a monster on the court…that’s where I want her to be, you know, eight, nine years from now,” Fisher said.

Fisher is a five-time NBA champion who played for the Los Angeles Lakers, Golden State Warriors, and Utah Jazz before pivoting to a career as a coach. Fisher said his motto as a player was to “work like a walk on,” and brings this attitude of excellence to his coaching as well. 

D’Antoni also brings his experiences as a player to the court. Prior to his NBA career, D’Antoni was the Italian League’s all-time greatest point guard, Milan’s all-time leading scorer and led the team to five Italian League titles. He then worked as head coach of the Olimpia Milano team before returning stateside. 

“Milan was unbelievably special. I grew up as a person, culturally just expanded my horizons, we won a bunch of titles, and I would not change the experience that I had for I could have started in the NBA for 15 years,” D’Antoni said.” Off the court, it was just so meaningful to me. And I met my wife there. My son was born in Milan, and just so many things that I’ll never be able to repay the debt to them.”

In addition to his international experience D’Antoni was assistant coach under Mike Krzyzewski on the gold medal-winning US Men’s National Basketball Team in the 2008 and 2012 Olympics. 

“So what I learned mostly Coach K was, how I managed players and egos and how he put it together and how he made everybody so part of this the scheme of things,” D’Antoni said. “Playing with something bigger than ourselves. Right here you’re playing for the front of the jersey, not the back of the jersey.”

D’Antoni also shared some of his favorite memories of playing against Joe “Jellybean” Bryant, and his first memories of young Kobe Bryant.

Listen to the full podcast here. Watch the video of the podcast on the @legendsofsport YouTube channel.

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