Fisher’s story get­ting a Sparks-in­spired re­write

For­mer Laker hopes to show ad­ver­sity is in the past

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - dy­lan.her­nan­[email protected]­times.com Twit­ter: @dy­lanoh­er­nan­dez

Are you run­ning the tri­an­gle of­fense? As his on­stage com­pan­ions laughed, Derek Fisher started to an­swer.

“That’s a good ques­tion,” he said, smil­ing. “I’m not go­ing to tell ev­ery­body what we’ll be do­ing be­fore we see us.”

Fisher paused to chuckle. He was fired from his pre­vi­ous coach­ing as­sign­ment for not run­ning the tri­an­gle enough.

“We prob­a­bly will not in the truest, most au­then­tic form of it in terms of the way Tex Win­ter in­no­vated the of­fense and the way I played in it for Phil Jack­son,” Fisher said.

Now, it was his turn to make the au­di­ence crack up.

“At some point, there will prob­a­bly be some play­ers in the shape of a tri­an­gle,” he said jok­ingly.

At the Fri­day news con­fer­ence in­tro­duc­ing him as the new coach of the Sparks, Fisher was the same per­son who won the ad­mi­ra­tion of Los An­ge­les when he was a cham­pi­onship-win­ning point guard with the Lak­ers. Per­haps di­min­ished in stature by his as­so­ci­a­tion with the New York Knicks, but still the same per­son.

Thought­ful. Warm. Well-spo­ken.

And some­thing else: Still a fighter.

His only other foray into coach­ing was a hu­mil­i­at­ing 20-month calamity with the Knicks in which he was 40-96 and re­duced to tabloid fod­der.

He could have said that was enough. He could have con­tin­ued with his promis­ing broad­cast­ing ca­reer.

But he’s a five-time NBA cham­pion and five-time NBA cham­pi­ons aren’t wired like that.

“Learn­ing through ad­ver­sity, bounc­ing back, im­prov­ing, evolv­ing, grow­ing, that’s who I am, that’s what I’m made of,” Fisher said. “The book is not fin­ished yet. If you open a book and it’s 300 pages long, you can’t as­sume how it’s go­ing to fin­ish on Page 57. You have to read the whole book. I feel like this is an op­por­tu­nity to con­tinue writ­ing my coach­ing book.”

He de­nied he was us­ing the Sparks as a plat­form to launch a re­turn to the NBA.

“I’m here,” he said. “There isn’t a fu­ture out­side of what we’re here to talk about to­day. That’s the way I ap­proach ev­ery­thing that I do. I’m the coach of the L.A. Sparks.”

Maybe this po­si­tion won’t lead to an­other one. But even if that’s the case, he has an op­por­tu­nity to re­pair an im­age that was dam­aged in re­cent years.

In 2015, he was in­volved in a phys­i­cal al­ter­ca­tion with for­mer team­mate Matt Barnes at the home of Barnes’ ex-wife, Glo­ria Go­van.

Fisher is now en­gaged to Go­van, who at­tended the news con­fer­ence Fri­day. Fisher and Barnes have made peace.

Last year, Fisher pleaded no con­test to driv­ing un­der the inf lu­ence af­ter flip­ping his car on a Los An­ge­les free­way. He apol­o­gized pro­fusely in the af­ter­math of the ac­ci­dent, say­ing it would never hap­pen again.

If the Sparks’ hir­ing of Fisher looked like some­thing that hap­pened overnight, it wasn’t. Penny Toler said that over her 19 years as the gen­eral man­ager of the Sparks, she fre­quently con­sulted with Fisher. She de­scribed him as a long­time sup­porter of the team who at­tended games and spoke to play­ers.

So Fisher was the per­son she thought of when then-coach Brian Agler re­signed early last month.

Agler, who coached the Sparks to a WNBA cham­pi­onship in 2016, had signed a con­tract ex­ten­sion only last year.

Toler said the de­ci­sion to re­sign was Agler’s and that the coach wasn’t forced out. As for the rea­son for his de­par­ture, Toler said that re­mains a mys­tery.

“I have no clue,” Toler said. “I didn’t ask.”

She said Fisher was the only can­di­date con­sid­ered. Be­fore she in­tro­duced the idea to own­er­ship, Toler ran the idea by Sparks for­ward Can­dace Parker, a for­mer league MVP. Parker gave her con­sent.

“This is what peo­ple have to un­der­stand,” Toler said. “With women, you bet­ter be lis­ten­ing to us. Here is a guy that I know is go­ing to lis­ten.”

Re­spond­ing to crit­i­cism that she didn’t hire a woman for the po­si­tion, Toler said, “I’d like to say the GM is a woman. I don’t look as coach­ing as man or woman.”

Parker de­fended the de­ci­sion by point­ing to how she has never played in the NBA, but works as a league an­a­lyst for TNT. She also listed the coaches un­der whom she has played. Some were male, some were fe­male.

“If diver­sity is an is­sue within the WNBA, it’s not an is­sue with the L.A. Sparks,” Parker said.

Fisher’s his­tory with the Knicks wasn’t a prob­lem for Toler. If any­thing, it re­in­forced in Toler’s mind that Fisher was the right per­son for the job.

“Great ad­ver­sity doesn’t break peo­ple,” Toler said. “It makes us stronger.”

And Fisher said in his case, wiser.

“What I learned is that if there is not clar­ity in pur­pose, vi­sion and mis­sion from own­er­ship to man­age­ment to coaches to play­ers to staff, it doesn’t work and it doesn’t mat­ter what of­fense you run,” he said.

So as Fisher ex­plored his coach­ing op­tions in the last cou­ple of years, whether it was at the col­le­giate or pro­fes­sional level, he searched for a place that could pro­vide him with the or­ga­ni­za­tional unity the Knicks lacked. When Toler ap­proached him about this po­si­tion, he in­ter­viewed her more than she did him.

He thinks he found what he was look­ing for with the Sparks, a chance to fight the nar­ra­tive of him as a coach, a chance to re­write his story.

‘Learn­ing through ad­ver­sity, bounc­ing back, im­prov­ing, evolv­ing ... that’s who I am, that’s what I’m made of.’ — Derek Fisher

Damian Do­var­ganes As­so­ci­ated Press

NEW SPARKS coach Derek Fisher is joined by for­ward Can­dace Parker dur­ing a news con­fer­ence. Parker, a for­mer league MVP, sup­ported the hir­ing of Fisher.

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