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Mark Heisler / ON THE NBA

Fisher's journey continues a year later

May 09, 2008|Mark Heisler

SALT LAKE CITY -- A year ago, Derek Fisher's life changed, or would have if it ever did, which it never really has.

A year ago to the day, Fisher made his dramatic return from New York City, where his 10-month-old daughter had undergone eye surgery that morning to face his former teammates, the Golden State Warriors, in a playoff game.

Tonight on the same court, Fisher will make yet another return against another set of former teammates, the Jazz, in another playoff game.

The patterns that recur in Fisher's life amaze him as much as anyone, although with his deep religiousness, anything -- like going from the trauma of Tatum's surgery to making the key three-pointer in a game two time zones away -- is possible.

"It was life in a day, basically, " Fisher said last week.

"To feel the threat of losing something that you love so dearly to then and go out and do something that you love so dearly, the game of basketball -- to juggle those the same day was pretty remarkable.

"I still don't accept all the credit myself. I'm still a man of faith, not a perfect man at all, but I definitely believe I was being touched and watched over that day -- probably because of people in Salt Lake City. . . .

"Without those thoughts and prayers, that day might not have happened the way it happened, so I'm still thankful for sure."

Happily for Fisher, his faith is strong enough to encompass the fact that some of the people who prayed for him that day may have been among those who booed him this season when he returned in a Lakers uniform.

Utah fans were more gracious in the Lakers' second visit, cheering when Fisher was introduced, but the boos started again during the game and the postseason should only add to the hostility.

For many fans -- like those in Staples Center who chanted "D-U-I" at Denver's Carmelo Anthony -- a player is only an object, to be cheered or derided when it feels good.

For his part, Fisher always knew who he was, and it was never the image he saw reflected in the fans' adoring gaze.

Fisher and Kobe Bryant arrived together as rookies in 1996. We've been through a lot of incarnations of Bryant since then but only one Fisher.

Fisher was the earnest one who as a second-year backup point guard wrote his teammates a letter, trying to bring them together with Utah up, 3-0, in the 1998 Western Conference finals, while starter Nick Van Exel made "Cancun" jokes.

Fisher is still the earnest one, now a 12-year, first-string point guard with a family, around which everything else revolves.

Utah owner Larry Miller wondered out loud if he'd been set up by the Lakers when he released Fisher, but the truth is, Fisher gave up three seasons worth $22 million for Tatum, with no assurance the Lakers or anyone else was interested.

When Fisher signed with the Lakers, it was for $8 million less, not that it was ever a decision.

From the moment Fisher and his wife, Candace, found out about the cancerous tumor in Tatum's eye, his career was on hold.

On May 9, 2007, the Fishers arose early in the morning in Manhattan with Tatum's surgery scheduled for 8 a.m., although it wound up being pushed back.

"That day, the toughest [part] was when we had to take her into the pre-op room and put her there for the last time and not see her for five hours, basically, until they were able to come back and tell us things went great."

With the wrung-out family allowed to take Tatum home and a Jazz charter standing by, playing that night was still the last thing on Fisher's mind.

"I didn't even know that Jerry [Sloan, Utah coach] decided to leave me on the active roster," Fisher says. "I talked to him after surgery once Tatum got up to recovery and just kind of gave he and Kevin [O'Connor, Jazz general manager] an update, that the surgery went great, that things were looking well.

"I told Coach, 'I worked out when I first got to New York just to work off some stress and get a sweat. I haven't touched a ball in four days. I don't know if I'll be able to help, so it's totally up to you whether you want to put me on the list or not.' "

With Fisher dozing, the plane landed in the third quarter of Game 2 of the second-round series against Golden State.

The Jazz had won Game 1, but as Fisher's assistant, Duran McGregory, briefed him at the airport, the team was running low on point guards.

"He told me all heck had broken loose, basically," Fisher says. " 'Dee Brown's hurt. DWill [Deron Williams] is in foul trouble, you're on the active roster, they want you there.'

"So I had to take the stairs back onto the plane as we were helping the kids off and ask my wife on the spot, 'Is it OK for me to play?' Once she said she was OK with it, that she would be OK at home by herself, I rushed over.

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