Coming into Friday night's Jazz-Lakers game, many wondered how the EnergySolutions Arena crowd would welcome Derek Fisher in his first game back as a reconverted Los Angeles Laker.
Including Fisher, who admitted to dealing with a few more pregame butterflies than usual.
Would Utah Jazz fans give him an eardrum-damaging hero's welcome like Fisher got in the playoffs last May following the inspiring cross-country journey he made after spending time with his cancer-stricken baby girl?
Or would they treat him like a traitor who worked an offseason deal to get out of his Jazz contract and into a loathed Lakers uniform again?
The reaction, it turned out, was a bit of both. He didn't get quite as many boos as Jazz Fan Enemy No. 1, Kobe Bryant, but he didn't receive nearly as many cheers as his replacement in Utah's starting lineup, Ronnie Brewer.
And that was the warm part of his reception.
Again sporting a headband, which he couldn't do in his one year with the Jazz, the Lakers' starting point guard was loudly booed every time he touched the ball during Utah's 120-96 blowout win.
"To be honest with you, I'm choosing not to really comment about the crowd reaction I guess," Fisher said. "I'll take a bow and accept what happened, and that's about all the attention I want to give to it really."
Perhaps Utah fans should have cheered him when he had the ball. Fisher missed his first three attempts, ended up hitting just 1 of 8 shots and finished with only three points in his return to his short-lived home.
"Coming back here to Salt Lake City," he said, "definitely for me personally was different and a little bit weird."
Some Jazz fans are obviously holding a grudge that Fisher asked for and was granted a release from the final three years and $20 million of his contract with Utah, which he said was necessary to be closer to medical facilities for his daughter. He ended up quickly re-signing with L.A., his former team of eight years.
Despite the less-than-warm homecoming reception, Fisher still cherishes the memory of Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals against Golden State.
After spending time with his 1-year-old daughter, Tatum, who was receiving treatment in New York for retinoblastoma a rare form of childhood eye cancer Fisher flew back and entered the game late in the third quarter.
The response by Jazz fans that May night was a whole lot of decibels louder than Friday's lukewarm greeting. And Fisher who made national headlines with his return and devotion to his daughter remembers it vividly. He says the roaring standing ovation was the most memorable moment of his NBA career, even more so than his big shot against the San Antonio Spurs and his three championships with the Lakers.
Friday's game, address changes and some Jazz fan bitterness all pale to what Fisher still considers most important: Tatum's improving health.
"She's doing great," Fisher said. "Where I'm playing and who I play for is almost irrelevant. The major part of this whole process is where she is now compared to where she was then. To me, that's the story."
Carlos Boozer, who didn't get a chance to face his old teammate because of an ankle injury, has fond memories of playing with Fisher. Leadership was the NBA veteran's biggest contribution during Utah's unexpected Western Conference Finals run.
"The fans that watched last season, they know how awesome he was for us," Boozer said. "I think everybody out there was obviously praying for his family and wishing his daughter well."
That doesn't mean Boozer or his current teammates will take it easy on their friendly foe. That much was obvious Friday.
"Once we strap it up, he's on the other team. He's a Laker; we're a Jazz. We're gonna try to take his head off, and he'll try to take our head off. We're competitors," Boozer said. "But off the court we go to dinner, we have a good time. I just texted him last week. We're still very, very close. He's still a brother of mine. But when we step on the court he's on the other sideline."Just ask Jazz fans.
Contributing: Tim Buckley E-mail: [email protected]
E-mail: [email protected]