Despite Derek Fisher’s noteworthy NBA career- who would have penciled in a guard from University of Arkansas, Little Rock with five titles?- his reputation was dragged through the proverbial mud this year as his personal life and professional life were the low hanging fruit devoured by a hungry social world. Social media jokes, memes and endless critiques contradicted the image Fisher had carefully constructed over two decades. In his heyday, Fisher would jokingly say that he was Martin Luther King and Kobe Bryant was Malcom X, referring to how different their leadership strategies were with teammates. True or not true, Fisher created an image in which he was loyal, dedicated, tough and competitive. Some of that image began to unravel in October when he and former friend/teammate Matt Barnes were involved in a domestic dispute that ended up with Fisher taking the worst of it to the face.
Because Fisher filed a police report, the NBA had the authority to punish Matt Barnes for two games. Matt Barnes was bitter about it. He called Fisher a snake, and not the Black Mamba kind. He said, “violence is never the answer but sometimes it is”, referring to what he did to Fisher’s face, gleefully boasting about it in spite of already having served a two game suspension.
“I know I have to keep my mouth shut because he’ll run and tell. I just don’t like him. And he knows I don’t like him.” (Matt Barnes).
The sordid gossipy story of two men in a fight over one woman, a married woman estranged from her husband, followed Fisher around all season as he was often reduced to a caricature, on the one hand a cheating husband, and on the other hand, a bad coach. As careful as Fisher had been over time to draw a line between the professional and the private, he unwittingly fed social media’s appetite for the lurid.
When Fisher was fired in February, it started another Derek Fisher conversation. Take your pick. He wasn’t ready to coach. He balked at running the Triangle. He was in over his head in New York. His privilege gave him a position he wasn’t qualified for.
There is a lot of talk about racial bias in sports hires, how candidates of color are shut out, but no one talks about the preferential treatment former players get just because they are former players. Fisher had never coached a pro team, never been an assistant. He had just finished his playing career and hadn’t taken a breath, an inhale, hadn’t relaxed for five minutes and then studied, analyzed and reached conclusions about teams, players, situations. It was a color outside the lines moment when Phil Jackson hired one of his former players. It spoke of generational entitlement.
For months, the jokes wrote themselves. Now Fisher is having his say but at this point, the jury of his peers have already rendered a verdict about who Fisher really is, how they were duped into believing his purity act. Writing an article called Truth, published by the Cauldron, Fisher attempted to clarify some things.
Point#1: He wasn’t fired because of the love triangle thing. He makes it a point to explain, as if we didn’t know, that coaches are fired all the time, and many with more experience than Fisher had. When he was fired, no one from the Knicks mentioned his leaving the team to fly to California to visit his married girlfriend and then get into a fight. He was quick to say it wasn’t a fight with Barnes. He didn’t retaliate.
Point #2: He was committed to the Knicks organization and the players Jackson brought in. His view is that the players still trusted his leadership. Rebuilding is tough to do and in a franchise with so many media partners as the New York Knicks, it was almost impossible.
“At no time was my commitment to turning things around in question. As for my players, I was a guy that a lot of them had played against, so once I became their head coach, I think they had a tremendous amount of respect for my work ethic and dedication to righting the ship. They saw how hard I worked, how much time I put in.”
Point #3: Blame the media. The media was responsible for the narrative of Fisher’s private life impacting his professional life. He went as far as to say the media was lying.
“Salacious gossip sells papers and garners clicks but when you publish outright lies, I have a right to defend myself.”
For no other reason than narcissism, Fisher delves into the details of his relationship with Gloria Govan. He is the protective boyfriend as he defends Govan’s treatment by the bully media that dehumanizes women in general, and innocent Govan in particular, as a piece of property. Perhaps that is Fisher’s mind working while exhausted. I never read anything more than Govan as the subject of the love triangle and, oh yeah, Govan being married, so the love triangle was an adulterous one with children as witnesses.
Fisher clears up the fact that he and Matt Barnes were never friends even though they were teammates. He explains the sordid familial relationships which is the contradictory theme of this entire Fisher self-aggrandizement. He bangs on the media for getting into his business and then he lays out his business that no one cares about but him. He wants it both ways.
When he talks about his “reputation speaking for itself” he finds it important to talk about how imperfect he is and how flawed and how we all know his true character. No. We don’t. We know the basketball player. We know 259 playoff games. We know his first playoff game in 1996, Fisher took four shots and missed them all. We know his .04 seconds shot in San Antonio. We know game 3 in Boston when he played 40 minutes and he won the game for the Lakers who were tied in the series 1-1. Fisher made shot after shot after shot. Afterwards, he cried. We know Fisher was in the iconic 1996 draft with Allen Iverson and Kobe Bryant and Ray Allen and Steve Nash. We know he thirved in Phil Jackson’s offense.
That is what we know, who we know. Derek Fisher, the basketball player. But Derek Fisher, the man?
That’s a private matter.
photo via llananba