When the boos cascaded down the aisles of EnergySolutions Arena back in November, Derek Fisher was caught off guard something he rarely experiences as a professional athlete playing for one of the NBA's most reviled teams.
"When I came back that first time," Fisher, who spent last season with the Jazz and became a fan-favorite as he helped Utah reach the Western Conference Finals, said, "there was a sting."
That was almost four months ago but Fisher, now back with the Los Angeles Lakers after asking to be released from his Jazz contract during the offseason, is preparing himself for another round of emotional welcome-back greetings tonight.
The range of emotions, he admits, will be varied and amplified because of the tight playoff race.
"The emotions of the fans will be high to begin with," Fisher said.
The boos that stung Fisher in his first return to Salt Lake City after leaving the Jazz surprised him. He knew he wouldn't get a hero's welcome, considering the uniform he'd be wearing, but did not expect the sounds her heard.
"I play for the team that Jazz fans love to hate," he said. "Regardless of the circumstances, I'm back on the Lakers again."
And that, more than any ulterior motives fans might have assumed, is the primary reason he wasn't embraced with open arms.
"If I played for any other team in the NBA," Fisher said, "the reception probably would have been different."
Yet, the circumstance that lead him to leave the Jazz his infant daughter, Tatum, was diagnosed with a rare form or eye cancer, and he wanted to live in a city with medical specialists more specifically trained to treat her rubbed many Jazz fans the wrong way when he almost immediately signed with the Lakers after his contract was dissolved in Utah.
"I don't know if there's anything I could do to change it," Fisher said. "I expected to come in and it would be positive."
It wasn't, entirely, and he's still being asked questions about it.
When the ball is thrown into the air for tipoff tonight, though, he expects all emotions to be focused on winning the game. With the playoff race closer than anyone can remember, each game is crucial.
"I've never experienced it in my 12 years," he said. "It's keeping all teams engaged. The NBA has a little heartbeat right now."
Will Fisher get his feelings hurt if 19,000 fans serenade him with boos again?"I wouldn't say hurt feelings," he said. "It was moreso unexpected or disappointing more than anything. But I'm beyond that. I've moved on."
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