Derek Fisher may no longer be a fan favorite in Salt Lake City. He even gets booed now with some regularity by Utah Jazz fans at EnergySolutions Arena.
Still, Fisher looks back fondly at his lone season in a Jazz uniform.
Two years ago Fisher was a veteran leader on a young Utah Jazz club that surprised the NBA by making it all the way to the Western Conference finals. It was a memorable time in more ways than one for Fisher, who is now the starting point guard for the conference-favorite Lakers.
For Fisher, who scored seven points on Thursday night during the Lakers' 88-86 loss to the Jazz, the 2006-07season in Utah was meant to be. A point guard for most of his 13-year NBA career, Fisher spent that campaign as an undersize starting shooting guard alongside a young, up-and-coming star named Deron Williams.
"We had some success that season that not a lot of people anticipated," said Fisher of his year with the Jazz. "Deron was in his second year. (Carlos) Boozer was a couple of years younger and we had a team that nobody knew what to expect coming in. It was refreshing to be a part of that team because we learned that if we could go out there and play as a unit, good things would happen."
Utah rallied from a 2-0 deficit to a first-round playoff victory over Houston in '07. The Jazz then downed the Golden State Warriors, 4-1, to advance to the conference finals. San Antonio ended Utah's Cinderella-like dreams, but it was a period Fisher will never forget.
"It was a good experience," Fisher said Thursday of his time in Salt Lake City.
He said despite the fact he was going through an extremely emotional family crisis at the same time Utah was making its playoff run.
It's been well documented that Fisher's baby daughter, Tatum, had been diagnosed with a rare eye cancer called retinoblastoma just prior to the playoffs. Twice on game days during the playoffs Fisher flew with his family to New York for treatments.
Fisher missed one playoff game altogether and famously arrived at what was then known at the Delta Center after Game 2 against the Warriors had already started. In true Hollywood style, he hit a huge 3-point shot late that helped the Jazz win.
Two years later, Fisher is still profoundly grateful for the way the Jazz — general manager Kevin O'Connor and team owner Larry H. Miller, in particular — allowed him to do what he needed to do during that trying period.
"There was definitely a reason we were here (in Utah) when we found out about Tatum's diagnosis," Fisher said. "I don't think I could have been in a better situation in terms of teammates and in their ability to support me in that situation. The coaching staff was very supportive and in Kevin and Larry, from a management and ownership standpoint, they let me determine what was important. . . . I got the feeling that whether it was the first guy or the 14th guy, family came first. For them, there are certain priorities in life that trump basketball and stats and success. I think that was the reason I was here when everything took place."
Then again, Fisher still feels he made the right move after the 2007 season by asking the Jazz to release him from his contract so he could get Tatum the care she needed. After the Jazz released him, he quickly signed with his old team, the Lakers.
That rubbed many Jazz fans the wrong way and Fisher has been the second-most booed Laker — behind only Kobe Bryant, of course — the past two season in games played at ESA.
Fisher, though, is proud of his relatively brief stay with the Jazz and grateful he got to know Miller before he died in February.
"It's sad and emotional," said Fisher on the passing of Miller. "Even though we all know we have to go sometime, you just hate to see people go. Larry, obviously, had been dealing with some difficulties with his health, but it was still a shock to hear the news and it's still different not seeing him sitting over there (courtside). . . . I'm very sad that Larry is gone, but I feel fortunately that I was able to work — for even one year — with someone who was as passionate about his team as anyone I've ever seen."
Tatum Fisher, meanwhile, is doing well, according to her proud papa.
"She doing great and progressively doing better," Fisher said. "So much has happened from when she was 10 months old to now. She and her twin brother (Drew) will be 3 on June 29th. Every time we go to the doctor and get a good report, it's just a great feeling. We're just as humble and just as thankful as we were then. We're thankful that things have continued to get better."
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