Great story by our old friend Ross Siler in the Salt Lake Tribune today:
When Kobe Bryant heard the good news Wednesday, that Derek Fisher’s 10 1/2 -month-old daughter had undergone successful treatment and the family was flying back to Utah, the superstar guard sent a text message to his friend from all those Lakers championship teams.
There was a game to be played and, the last Bryant heard, Fisher was going to try to make it. After eight seasons as teammates, coming into the NBA in the same draft class, and countless battles in practice, Bryant offered Fisher the advice he would have given himself.
“I just said, ‘Go at them,’ ” Bryant said in an interview with The Salt Lake Tribune on Thursday. ” ‘Just go out there and go at them and do what you do best.’ I’m sure he got that and understood exactly where I was coming from because we’re cut from the same cloth.”
The news that Fisher’s baby daughter, Tatum, was diagnosed with a form of eye cancer hit Bryant especially hard. Not only were he and Fisher close friends on the Lakers, but Bryant is the parent of two daughters, the youngest born just months before Fisher’s twins.
“It made us all stop, just completely stop,” Bryant said. “It was very difficult at first. But he gave us the good news the following day about the surgery being successful and that he was going to be able to be there [for the game].”
What Bryant never doubted was that Fisher was going to find a way to make an impact if he was able to play. He knew the depth of Fisher’s religious faith and believed it would carry him through the game, even if he didn’t have the physical strength to play.
For whatever reason, perhaps best exemplified by Bryant, some athletes find a way to play their best at times of personal crisis. Fisher’s performance Wednesday was just another example.
“What happens is you get a higher sense of focus,” Bryant said. “You want to perform well for your family. You know it can help lift the spirits of your family for that day or however long.”
With the Lakers eliminated from the playoffs, Bryant said he was at home watching on television when Fisher walked into EnergySolutions Arena in the third quarter, a police escort having hastened his arrival from the airport.
Fisher changed into uniform, walked out of the tunnel, and immediately was sent into the game by Jazz coach Jerry Sloan. His three-pointer with 1:06 left in overtime capped a night that was beyond inspirational, both for Fisher and his teammates.
There was no doubt for Bryant that Fisher’s shot was destined to go in. He flashed back to the run the Lakers made to a second championship in 2001, when Fisher seemed like he couldn’t miss from that spot on the court. “I’ve seen him make thousands of those,” Bryant said.
Both drafted in 1996, Bryant and Fisher grew up together with the Lakers and went back and forth on the practice court throughout those years, starting when they were rookies forced to come in and play on days the veteran players were given off.
“We used to just go at it,” Bryant said. “I was merciless how I attacked him and he came right back. . . . We used to draw blood. That’s where we gained that respect for each other, and the foundation of our backcourt was built there.”
Even before Wednesday’s game, Fisher hit one of the immortal shots in playoff history in the 2004 Western Conference semifinals, a turnaround jumper off an inbounds pass with 0.4 seconds left that broke the hearts of San Antonio Spurs fans.
Asked about the playoff theater that always seems to star Fisher, Bryant said: “What happens when you have the desire to succeed and put forth the work to succeed on a daily basis is when those moments come along, you capitalize on them.
“He may seem to be in those situations more than other players – the same thing with Robert Horry – but it’s because they capitalize on them that the impression is in people’s minds.”
Fisher did just that in overtime, sending the Jazz to Golden State with a 2-0 series lead. Bryant, meanwhile, had one request: For someone to give Fisher’s mother a hug on his behalf.