Five-time NBA champion Derek Fisher, who now works for the Los Angeles Sparks of the WNBA, sat down with HoopsHype to discuss the Lakers, his coaching experience and Veterans Day.
Your father John served in the military and he’s a US Air Force veteran. What does Veterans Day mean to you?
Derek Fisher: It’s hard to put into words. As a father myself, now I’m beginning to teach my kids the importance of it. It was just an amazing opportunity to connect with USAA, and encourage just everybody, not just myself and our family or your family or whatever, but everybody to just step up and show support. We have nearly 18 million living US military veterans and we’re participating in partner with USAA in the third #HonorThroughAction challenge. My dad was just an example of sacrifice and doing things for the greater good. And that was one of the first examples I saw of somebody playing their role as a member of a team. He was always willing to do things for the greater good. And even if he didn’t get attention or shine for it, he served. And that was an important lesson for me.
Can you explain what the challenge is to our readers so they can participate in social media?
DF: So to participate in the challenge, to have to draw the letter ‘V’, ‘V’ for veterans, in the palm of your hand. You can put the initials of the veteran in your life or more if you have more. I have other family members that are also veterans but I’m focusing on my dad John this year. So you draw the letter ‘V’ with the initials of the veteran in your life to celebrate it on the palm of your hand, snap the photo, and then you share it through social media. Real simple, using the hashtag #HonorThroughAction with a challenge to other people, right to show their support and appreciation on this Veterans Day. So real simple, real cool. We got some cool stuff lined up for social media and really excited about it and being a part of USAA.
Now you’re into your third WNBA season with the Los Angeles Sparks, but would you like to return to the NBA as a head coach one day?
DF: I think the first big thing for me to acknowledge is, in particular with Veterans Day, how much of a blessing and an opportunity it is to just be able to coach and teach and to try and partner with others to build success. My responsibility today and going forward is to the Sparks, and really trying to help us continue to push women’s basketball and the WNBA forward in a major way to continue to give young girls and young women an example of what it can look like when you continue to pursue your dreams despite people not necessarily always supporting you in the best way. So I’m excited going into my third season and what those opportunities are. Whatever it is for me personally down the line professionally, we’ll see. The more success we can build within the Sparks organization and what we’re doing, if there are opportunities for me to continue to improve as a coach, I’ll worry about that at that time. But right now, it’s about these ladies and these women. Out of that 18 million living US military veterans, there’s a lot of women in that number.
Kobe Bryant was supporting women’s basketball so strongly before his death… Maybe you’ll carry on with that legacy.
DF: Yeah, for sure. Kobe and his daughter Gianna were able to help women’s basketball grow and increase its platform exponentially in a very short time. Just in the last year, the way people gravitated to Kobe’s support for women’s basketball at the collegiate level, women’s basketball professionally in the WNBA… And just, you know, wanting to create a better and more equitable world for his daughters to live in. That’s what we’re all trying to do as parents and as people and is definitely an example to follow and to learn from, and again, all of these messages are right in line with Veterans Day, and why USAA is a leader in that category.
You highly contributed to five of the Lakers’ 17 titles. Now that the team has caught up with the Celtics, do you believe the Lakers are the best NBA franchise ever?
DF: Well, I’ve believed that for a long time. I grew up as a Lakers fan and watching Magic [Johnson] and ‘Big Game’ James Worthy and Kareem [Abdul-Jabbar] and Byron Scott and AC Green and Michael Cooper… I could never have imagined being one of those guys 20 years later. So I’ve always thought that the Lakers were by far the best basketball franchise, and arguably one of the greatest franchises in all of sports. The number of titles is obviously an easy thing to look to. But that’s what the rest of the world will try to tell you, right? It’s like, based on these external results, it’s whether or not you size up to the competition. And one thing we know about being great is that it’s not about what other people think, or what numbers you have compared to somebody else, but what you actually are. So the 17 titles I think is a great accomplishment. I think there are more to come. But I’ve always believed that the Lakers are the best in basketball and that’ll never change.
Years ago TMZ published that your five rings were stolen. Is that true? Were you able to recover them?
DF: Rather than telling you if I have or haven’t recovered them, I think the main thing for me through different experiences has been this: nobody can steal you. Folks might try to take objects or material things but I was there in those moments as they were being created. The memories are there forever and obviously losing Kobe is very impactful this year in 2020 and makes those moments even more important to cherish.
Who’s in your Lakers’ Mount Rushmore?
DF: Oh my gosh. I mean… That’s tough! Obviously, Kobe goes up there, Magic goes up there, Kareem goes up there… The difficulty for me is like I want to put Shaq [O’Neal] up there but you can’t leave out Jerry West, you can’t leave out Elgin Baylor… The Lakers need two Mount Rushmore, we need at least eight places, not just four [laughs].
What is your favorite individual moment as an NBA player: The 0.4 shot at San Antonio in 2004? The winning layup at Boston in the 2010 Finals?
DF: That’s a great question, man. Those opportunities you mentioned to help your team win championships is one of the greatest feelings in the world, but I honestly think none of it is possible without the night that you get drafted, right? So I pick the night that I got drafted in 1996, arguably one of the best and deepest drafts in the history of the game. I couldn’t have imagined being in those positions later in 2004, 2010, some of the great moments in the Finals in 2001 versus the Sixers… So I just think it all started with just having the opportunity. So many people in life just want the opportunity to create these moments… So I think it all kind of just goes back to draft night in June 1996.
Can the Lakers repeat next year?
DF: Having a season that was disruptive in terms of COVID-19 and kind of in the single-site bubble scenario, that does have some impact on the way teams were able to perform. I do think the Lakers were still the best team overall. But you know, now that they’ve kind of agreed on what looks like a 72-game schedule, you’re going to start to introduce travel again, injuries are going to have a different impact when you start to stretch out the season more along the regular line, so we’ll see. I think that if the Lakers can stay healthy, as long as they have LeBron [James] and Anthony Davis, that’s not a bad place to start in terms of having the best chance to win the championship again.