Growing Up With Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher: A Fan’s Reflective Essay Part II
“The central reason most smart people (and certainly most critics) tend to disparage nostalgia is obvious: It’s an uncritical form of artistic appreciation. If you unconditionally love something from your own past, it might just mean you love that period of your own life. In other words, you’re not really hearing “Baby Got Back.” What you’re hearing is a song that reminds you of a time when you were happy, and you’ve unconsciously conflated that positive memory with any music connected to the recollection.” -Chuck Klosterman
I hate change, always have. Changing addresses, changing jobs, changing where I go get my dry cleaning done, the list goes on.
Through it all, I think the most difficult change for me has been the change in how I watch basketball since becoming a writer. I’ve become desensitized to the roller coaster of emotion that a fan would experience over the course of 48 minutes. The urge to cheer on the Purple and Gold to victory (or defeat if you’re a pro-tanker), is replaced by this tranquil observant experience of hoping something happens that fits the narrative I’ve structured my column around.
But every once in a while, the little fan boy in me still demands to be unleashed, and the story tells itself.
This Sunday, Derek Fisher will visit STAPLES Center to face the Los Angeles Lakers for the final time as a visitor (he faces the Clippers at STAPLES on April 9, but no one cares). Before the season started, Fisher announced that this season, his eighteenth campaign, would be his last.
Having played an instrumental role in five championship runs with the Lakers, nostalgia will run deep on Sunday when he enters the game, naturally. And it can be argued that D-Fish is one of the best, if not the best, role player in Laker history.
For all the flack that Fisher took for being one of the worst starting point guards in the league near the end of his second stint with the club, his backcourt mate Kobe Bryant hasn’t achieved much team success without him. In fact, Kobe’s never won a championship without being paired with Derek in the Lakers’ backcourt, and vice versa.
Sunday afternoon marks the end of an era for my generation of basketball fanatics. It’s another telling indication that the players we grew up in watching admiring must make way to the new generation.
Heading into this season, there are five members of the celebrated Draft Class of 1996 that are still active in the league: Ray Allen, Steve Nash, Jermaine O’Neal along with Bryant and Fisher. Three of those guys (Nash, O’Neal and Kobe) have missed a significant chunk of this year due to injury while the other two (Allen and Fisher) have remained relevant by accepting a reduced role on a title contending team. Heck, the head of class of ’96, Allen Iverson, just had his number retired by the Philadelphia 76ers this past weekend.
Recently, I had a thoughtful chat with a former professor of mine. She stated that her level of care for her students on a personal level has gradually dwindled year after year as her pool of former students grows larger and larger. In a way, that’s exactly how I feel with my favorite basketball players. There’s only one generation of players I can admire in that way, and while I still hope for this current generation of player’s successes, the interest level isn’t as rooted.
Which is how I felt when Derek and Oklahoma City’s most recent visit to STAPLES on February 13. I found myself optimistic that the Lakers might overcome the mighty Thunder, which they almost did. But with Kobe sidelined and Derek playing on the other team, my allegiance leaned towards just Derek. Call me a crummy fan, I’m fine with that, professional sports is cheering for grown men in color coordinated shirts, anyhow; but I felt a much deeper connection to the man who developed my love for the game of basketball than the current batch of players running around in the uniform that Derek and Kobe made me proud to support.
There was such a profound level of irony down the stretch of that game. It was Fisher who made a crushing three ball that tied the game up at 87 after the Lakers had led for much of the game. It was Fisher who sank two free throws to seal the game with 16 seconds left after being intentionally fouled. And it was Fisher who came out of the whole ordeal looking like only Derek Fisher can: a timely opportunist who knows exactly when to strike. Oh, and he also led all players with a +/- rating of +19.
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