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NBA FINALS: THE SHOT | Bill Plaschke

Luck Is Beside the Point -4

Fisher's defining moment came with years of hard work, not one miracle shot

June 06, 2004|Bill Plaschke

He closes the door in his San Fernando Valley home, the one where neighborhood children blanket the front gate with posters proclaiming that D-Fish is the man.

He puts down the phone, the one he uses to call his mother at least four times a week.

He excuses himself from his brother, who rebounds his extra jump shots every day after practice.

He turns on the TV, presses the button on the VCR, slips the tape into the machine.

It is The Shot.

Five days after saving the Laker season, Derek Fisher is finally going to watch The Shot.

"Couldn't do it sooner," he says. "Too emotional, too overwhelming."

Gary Payton is preparing to throw an inbounds pass with 0.4 seconds remaining, the Lakers trailing the San Antonio Spurs by one point, the Western Conference semifinal series tied at two games apiece ...

The action freezes.

His hand on the pause button, a thought fills Derek Fisher's head.

It is the same thought that has smoldered there since he sprinted off the floor that magical Thursday night and into a locker room filled with stunned teammates wildly blabbering about what they had just seen.

A lucky shot. That's what at least one of them called it. That's what at least one of them believed.

Shaquille O'Neal compared it to the crazy fall-away jumper that Tim Duncan had just hit over his outstretched arms, saying, "One lucky shot deserves another."

It was a quote so catchy, somebody put it on a T-shirt, somebody else put it on a foam fish cap, and yet nobody consulted the man who shot it, and Fisher's mind had been collecting floor burns while wrestling with this ever since.

Luck? The shot of his life was luck? A man labors eight years in the shadows to be bathed in a singular moment of brilliance, and it was nothing more than a crack in the roof?

"Man," Fisher says, shaking his head. "People were really calling it luck."

It is this thought that, in the darkness of his home, he now engages.

It is this thought he must destroy, or risk being destroyed by it.

He pushes "play."

The action begins, quick on the screen, slow-motion in his mind.

"I put myself back in the moment, what I was thinking, where I was running," he says. "I see Kobe going over there, I see Karl coming over here, I see me getting the ball ..."

He sees himself catching the ball and twisting around.

"It looks weird," he says.

He sees himself falling backward toward the seats.

"Definitely strange," he says.

But then, at the last instant before the shot, he sees what he has seen for the last eight years, in his mirror in the morning, in the eyes of his coaches, in the best of his dreams.

The stare at the basket. The flick of the left wrist. The extended follow-through.

And Derek Fisher realizes that he is looking not at a magician or miracle worker, but at Derek Fisher.

"That was me!" he says. "That was like every other shot I shoot. That was my shot."

Stare, flick, follow. Stare, flick, follow.

He wants to believe in it, buy it, never forget it, so he rewinds the tape for point-four seconds and plays it again. And again. And again.

"I literally rewind it 30 or 40 times," he says later. "And now I know. This wasn't some shot you throw up from halfcourt behind your back. This wasn't some fluke. This was not lucky."

This was him.

The strong Laker. The passionate Laker. The enduring Laker.

Funny, but what it took Derek Fisher eight years and point-four seconds to figure out, the rest of us have known all along.

*

So many people thinking it. So many people almost embarrassed to say it. So I will.

The best thing about this Laker championship run is Derek Fisher.

The most redeeming quality about this Laker team is Derek Fisher.

On a squad of loutish excess, he is dignified restraint. In a room of selfish whims, he is selfless wishes.

He wished he wouldn't have been shoved aside when Gary Payton arrived last fall, but publicly he never said a word.

"That's not the way I work," he says. "It was worse than I thought, I had trouble sleeping, but I kept it inside."

He wishes to play enough to make the big money and own the bright lights, but he quietly draws charges and dives on the floor anyway.

"I think that's what people in L.A. and America respect the most," he says. "They respect regular people, hard-working people. There's a reason they say that everybody only gets 15 minutes of fame. It's because people don't want that other 45 minutes. They like normal. They like real."

He wishes reporters wouldn't trample him on their way to interviewing surreal Kobe Bryant or superhuman Shaquille O'Neal -- eight years of being shoved aside! -- but he just nods and smiles.

"I've never been the most talented guy on the team, I understand that," he says.

He wishes that this summer, when he has a chance to opt out of his contract, he will be given options that could enrich his career and his life.

But down deep, he wonders whether he could ever leave the Lakers.

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