Saturday, April 7, 2012


The Art Of Stepping Up.

"And the Lakers are the 2000 World Champions", Laker fans remember those commentators words like it was all yesterday. It is hard to believe its been more than a decade in the making though. As an Afro sporting Kobe complete with a boyish grin, leapt into the big arms of a tearful Shaquille O'Neal the Phil Jackson led Lakers beat Reggie Miller and Larry Bird's Indiana Pacers in Game 6 of the first NBA Finals of the new millennium, christening the new STAPLES Centre and new uniformed Lake Show with their first championship and dynasty since Earvin Johnson brought, Magic, Showtime and a Forum of championships to Los Angeles in the Eighties.

The dynamic and dominant duo of Shaq and Kobe went on to win two more trophies even with the twin towers of David Robinson and Tim Duncan and a double dose of problems and troubles standing in their way. Throughout these championships they had their fair share of help however from former champion A.C. Green to serious shooter Glen Rice and former assistant Brian Shaw to Kobe's mentor Ron Harper. Even Hall of Famers Gary Payton and Karl Malone joined on board to help carry on tradition. Still however three was the magic number like De La does. Before LeBron took his trois talents to South Beach and even before L.A. bred Paul Pierce reignited a historic rivalry with his own trio the Lakers had a mini big three of their own (and we're not talking about the great Kobe, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum yet) in the form of three big time role players who stepped it up while sitting behind their two stars.

You see when Derek Fisher was traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder recently for as little as a seldom used but seriously talented Jordan Hill this was more than just another fan disappointing, Lamar Odom front office decision. It was truly the end of an era and we're not just talking about the class of 96 career ending, backcourt partnership with fellow 1996 draftee and close friend Kobe Bryant. Derek was the last active purple and gold wearing member of the role playing big three of Rick Fox, Robert Horry and he.

Shaq and Kobe may have been all the Lakers needed in some armchair fans minds but the critics and the purists know that the champion L.A. team needed Fisher, Fox and Horry at the Point Guard and two forward spots respectively. From their tough play on both ends of the floor to they're clutch plays that saved the day these guys where big hitters masquerading as regular Joe's. From 0.4 to Sacramento seconds, as the buzzer sounded everyone knew who number 5, 2 and 17 belonged to. Arguably these jersey numbers should be raised to the rafters along with Shaq and Kobe when their jerseys are retired but just like other greats like Byron Scott, Michael Cooper and more sometimes they're just isn't any more room or justice.

Sure it was ultimately Shaq and Kobe that brought Larry O'Brien home to California but we all know this game is really more than the power of one...or two. The video game and youtube, iphone highlight generation sometimes need to go beyond the style and look into the substance of success. O'Neal and Bryant did the dirty work and little things too. They're more than deserving of their grand scale but from every loose ball to charge Rick, Derek and Robert deserve to be celebrated with first name status too for all their super hard work that really did do more than just help win games. Rewriting the script and game conclusions these guys directed things for the big names. Even in the vast Hollywood make or break world these guys are stars.

Now let's look at why.

First there was Rick. Straight from the Foxhole this guy was a sly talent. Trapping people defensively off ball, unseen and underrated. It really was the intangible and blue collar dirty work which turned the little things into big moments for this Small Forward and his Lakers. Beyond his massive 2000 Finals, Game 6, Reggie Miller dared three, Fox hounded every teams best player with or without the rock. It was the kind of play that made Lakers like Glen Rice want to pick him up and hug him and make Kings like Doug Christie and Peja Stojakovic want to pick him up and shake him.

These days from 'The Big Bang Theory' cameos to movie roles Rick Fox is a Hollywood star in his own right. Different to his Laker days Fox is making silver screen headlines and dating 'Doll House' star Elizah Duskhu. This man was always built for the bright light and the big time. Shaq and others used to clown Rick about spending too much time in the mirror, but the real reflections of this guys career sees celebration and championships. Victory has belonged to his versatile talent, locker room presence and grit on determination. Whether offensively or defensively, on the ball or off Rick Fox knew how to play this game and that's why he's where he is today, courtside with rings watching a legacy he helped create.

Fox was joined in the frontcourt by another force aside of Shaquille O'Neal. Powering the Lakers off the bench was Power Forward Robert Horry. Sure from Horace Grant to Samaki Walker, Robert didn't start but that's because he finished games...literally. Mr. Clutch, 4th Quarter owned the last few seconds and teams that dared stand in the way of his hand, the three point line, the Spalding and the twine. From helping Houston with their problems, to clicking with the Spurs in San Antonio Robert won championships with everyone, almost going 'Four For Texas' like Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra. Still with his Rat Pack of Fisher and Fox in Los Angeles, Horry's most memorable and iconic time belonged as a Laker.

Robert could D up, go inside, rebound and do things that go unnoticed in today's game. Still it was his behind the arc ownership that illuminated newspaper headlines as the backboard lit up. From Philadelphia to Sacramento everyone was part of the story. Vlade Divac better read a newspaper or something. Horry made headlines like Drake, taking care of the competition. They said he looked like Will Smith, but this Fresh Prince of L.A. was his own legend and helped in the Lakers pursuit of happiness and history. He barely missed...OK there was that one bucket in San Antonio but even that one went in before it popped out. Robert Horry may have ultimately decided more winning games for the Lakers than Kobe Bryant. He was so money with the final ball he even makes Larry Bird and Michael Jordan jealous. He affords his name to that company. Robert Horry may just be the greatest clutch hitter of all time.

But then again there's Derek Fisher. The only member of this threesome and original post millennium dynasty unit to last with Kobe to the second set of championship years with Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and others but now Fish is gone to Laker history with Lamar Odom and legacy lasting, legendary coach Phil Jackson. Before he brought his thunder shot to Oklahoma, Derek was still lighting it up off Pico, downtown in the city of angels. His heaven sent, hail mary plays quarterbacked the Lakers from the Point Guard spot. This marvellous clutch player even avenged the Lakers playoff loss to the Dallas Mavericks by hitting a game winner against the reigning champions to dust last years sweep with a new broom. The hammer down celebration from the new Thunder player let out all the frustration of him and his cities fall from championship consideration. That shot made people look the Lakers way again.

The guy may be old but he's still that clutch. The Lakers have made a big mistake losing one of their primary weapons and it may come back to haunt them if Fisher guns them down in the postseason with Wild West favourites Oklahoma City. Derek's most recent greatest hits and his clutch championship contributions against Boston and Orlando dis-respectively may put him one or two plays over Robert Horry as one of the Lakers and NBA's greatest performer through twine throughout the winding down seconds. Put it this way if you put up a list of greatest clutch shots in Los Angeles Lakers and basketball history these guys would be duking it out down the charts with more top hits than Lil' Wayne on the Billboard. From saving L.A. in a record 0.4 seconds (like he saved the locked out league just in time as Player Association President this year) to putting his finger to his lips after silencing the Philadelphia Sixers Derek has rivalled Horry and everyone before to own a lot of the basketball successes from the last decade.

Taking charges and diving for loose balls with his gladiator chiseled frame this 37 year old warrior still looks and plays like a young man. Years gone he overcame season and potentially career ending stress fractures to strap on a headband and tape and shoot down teams with a barrage of net swishing buckets. From clicking the lights off for San Antonio in playoff quarters to doing the same to too many other teams to mention whatever the game, this go to guy is deadly with three point purity and he's still alive in the league today. Until the final buzzer sounds, the ball is his..and he's going to take it. No one should and should ever have bet against him.

These guys where all a sure thing. A supporting cast worthy of awards from the small things to the big buckets and from the tears to the champagne. Three times a Laker these guys are part of a legacy that will last longer than the arguments that they where riding the coattails of Shaq and Kobe's success. They suited up just like everybody and else and earned and owned their purple and gold stripes. When it comes to the rings on their fingers they where part of the championship change which engaged them in a matrimony of victory. Till retirement do part, for better or worse these guys took the Lakers down the aisle. Even without the fame they belong in a hall or class of their own. One that commemorates effort, teamwork, unselfishness and most importantly...success. After its all said and done, they've won.

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