Kobe gets his confidant back
Derek Fisher's return to the Lakers is a huge relief to his biggest fan: Kobe Bryant
Derek Fisher did not want to leave. He also did not want to beg.
Modest and humble as he always comes off in interviews, he is a proud, confident man.
Proud of what he's done in his 14 seasons in the NBA and confident in what he can do in what will be at least three more, as he decided to re-sign with the Lakers on Monday.
"I don't really get overly concerned with who can come in and do what I do better than me or replace me," Fisher said last month when we met for an interview in Las Vegas.
"You could try something different, but you cannot go out and find what I do, period. Regardless of what you try or who you try to get, it won't be the same. It might look different. It might even look better, depending on the packaging. But it won't be what I do."
What he does is irrefutable now: He leads.
There's no way to structure bonuses or performance incentives around that particular quality. No way to valuate that trait financially. It is, simply, invaluable.
Which is why two teams with championship aspirations -- the Lakers and the Heat -- were vying so strongly for his services.
He also spoke almost daily with Kobe Bryant.
Bryant came into the league with Fisher back in 1996, and has won five championships with him and none without him. They are great friends in the way that only men who have grown up together, fought together, lost together and won together could be.
Still, during their 11 seasons together as teammates, Bryant probably has had more arguments with Fisher than almost any other player.
Face to face, voices raised, in front of the entire team, but behind closed doors on the practice court.
You never heard about any of these clashes, because they were always about basketball and never personal.
No one ever had to step between them as they argued. Actually, no one would dare.
Fisher had earned the right to talk to Bryant that way. Bryant respected him enough to listen.
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As competitors, they share similar DNA. Maniacal about workouts, cold-blooded and confident under pressure.
During the season, despite what you might assume based on his age (35), Fisher is usually working out by 7 a.m. On most days, he arrives about two hours before the Lakers practice to get extra shots up. Afterward, he stays late to lift extra weights.
"I don't sit out of practices. I practice every day, unless Phil [Jackson] basically makes me sit out," he said. "I have to work in order to feel good. The more minutes I play, the better. I'm worse at 20 minutes than I am at 38 minutes. My body is not even warmed up when I play 20 minutes."
Bryant has seen all that for the past 14 years. Seen it and nodded his head in assent.
So when it came time for the Lakers to put a value on his longtime friend and teammate, Bryant thought little about lending his support to the cause.
According to sources close to the situation, Bryant didn't just voice his support for Fisher's return; he made sure it happened.
"Kobe really proved his allegiance in all of this," one source said. "Kobe is a loyal, true friend to Derek, and he proved that this week."
Fisher is no sycophant to Bryant, though. Far from it.
He is, for lack of a better word, Bryant's counterweight.
Gravitas personified. The force that keeps Bryant and the Lakers grounded and in balance.
There is no real way to value that, except to never let it get away once you've found it.
Ramona Shelburne is a reporter and columnist for ESPNLosAngeles.com.