Lakers' best dish: Surf and turf
For all their differences, Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher found reliance in each other
One of them, Derek, is 4 years older.
The other, Kobe, is 5 inches taller.
Derek's career high of points in one game is 29 points.
Kobe's high-scoring game is a whopping 81, and he twice has scored 30 points in a quarter.
Kobe has a signature shoe.
Derek wears Kobe's signature shoe.
Kobe is a 12-time All-Star.
Derek is a no-time All-Star.
Despite all their differences, Derek Fisher and Kobe Bryant are two of a kind. The Lakers drafted them in the same class back in 1996, and now they're teaming up in the backcourt yet again in the NBA Finals, looking for two more wins over the Boston Celtics to secure the fifth championship rings of their careers together -- the one statistical measure where they are completely identical.
Fisher had Bryant's back in the fourth quarter of Game 3 with the Lakers' lead dwindling. The 14-year veterans used what the team calls an "automatic," a play that veers from the constructs of the triangle offense.
By playing a basic two-man game, the Lakers beat the defense that might be the stingiest and most difficult to score on. Fisher ran off Bryant's defender, and the defender didn't want to switch because of the threat that Bryant constantly presents. Eleven fourth-quarter points by Fisher later, the Lakers had a 91-84 win in Game 4 of the Finals.
Bryant and Fisher spent training camp after training camp listening intently to Phil Jackson's coaching, breaking down film on how the triangle could keep everybody involved on the court. In crunch time of a pivotal championship-round game, they commandeered the game duet-style, simply trusting each other.
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"They recommended that this is a place where we can go that'll make a difference," Jackson said. "They don't want to come off Kobe to have to deal with it. So, you know, we can take advantage of this, and we did.
"It's their responsibility to understand how they're being played inside and what we do and recommend those things and make adjustments on court. That's what they're there to do, the veterans."
It was a rare role for Bryant to take on. He shares his team captain title with Fisher, but he isn't used to sharing shot attempts with the game on the line. However, Fisher has earned Bryant's trust throughout the years by being a pretty darn good clutch player in his own right.
Bryant was asked about his favorite quality of Fisher, and his answer probably would apply if he were asked about his favorite quality of himself.
"His toughness," Bryant said. "His toughness. He's very, very, very, very tough, mentally and physically. He doesn't back down from anything or anyone."
For those of you scoring at home, that was one "very" for every ring the two have won together.
Fisher has given Bryant an example of how to lead and how to act toward your teammates. And because Fisher is so good and so effective in that role, it allows Bryant to push the limits of his teammates with his demanding intensity, knowing that Fisher is there to balance everybody out if Bryant ever pushes it too far.
"He's our vocal leader," Bryant said. "He's the guy that pulls everybody together and is always giving positive reinforcement. I'm the opposite. We play off each other extremely well. That's what he does. That's what he's been doing extremely well. He has a knack for saying the right thing at the right time."
Fisher said that Bryant likes to joke that he is Malcolm X and Fish is Martin Luther King when it comes to their leadership styles.
"I don't think it's necessarily him tearing guys up in a way that's demeaning or belittling to our guys on our team, but just a different style of communicating it," Fisher said.
Fisher was so emotional after Game 3 that he choked up during an on-camera postgame interview and then completely broke down in tears afterward in the locker room in front of his teammates and coaching staff.
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"I'm not an emotional person; I can't understand [that]," Bryant deadpanned when asked about Fisher's water works Wednesday, feeding into the him-as-Satan, Fish-as-saint characterization because he knew that Fisher would follow him onto the podium and flash that big grin of his once again.
Although Bryant was locked down for a contract extension this past winter, Fisher is set to become a free agent. The last time Fisher left for Golden State, Bryant called him up, pleading for him to stay. When Bryant wanted out at the beginning of the 2007-08 season, Fisher was the anchor that kept his mind present in L.A., providing private consult and leaving inspirational messages in Bryant's locker.
"We shared a lot of good and bad things in our lives, and so I think it just gives us some commonalities and similarities that otherwise wouldn't be there," Fisher said. "It's not because our games are similar, it's not because of talent similarities or any of that. It's just that we've experienced a lot of good and bad things together. Because we've been through those fires, you know, we're just comfortable relying on each other, and I think he knows and I know if anything in the world happened, if there was one person that would stand up and say, 'I'm here for you,' you know, it would go both ways."
You have to believe that if Bryant has any pull in Fisher's re-signing process this summer, the two just might have a chance to ride off into the pastel-colored beauty of the sunset together while wearing purple and gold.
"It's kind of good to see him kind of come full circle and be back here again," Bryant said.
Back with the Lakers. Back with Bryant. Back in the Finals just two wins from another, back-to-back title.
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter here.