Phil Jackson came to the Lakers in 1999 with a hard-won reputation for preferring big guards. Meanwhile, the point guard he found in L.A., Derek Fisher, wasn't just little, but he was also, up to that point, not known as a shooter.
Looking back now, on his re-vamped personal website, Fisher -- who now plays for the Thunder -- makes clear he felt he had some serious work to do to keep his job under the legendary new coach. Fisher couldn't help his lack of height, but he could at least increase his value to Jackson by mastering the art of shooting.
Being a smaller, more traditional point guard, I wasn’t supposed to be one of Phil Jackson’s favorite type of guys to have on his team. So shooting was something that I really worked hard at during the offseason, and that moment really catapulted my confidence level in playing for Phil and playing in that new system. It set the stage for my role going forward.
Fisher remembers clearly Jackson's first regular season game as Laker coach. It was in Salt Lake City, it was on national TV and it was close down the stretch. The Jazz had traditionally manhandled those Lakers, Fisher remembers, writing: "They were just so physically strong and mentally tougher than we were at that time in our careers, and they would show it just about every time we matched up against them."
The Lakers led 84-82 with about 45 seconds left when Fisher caught a pass in the deep right corner and fired away. Nothing but net (as you can watch, in grainy YouTube, on Fisher's site). The Lakers won that game 91-84. They also won 67 regular season games that season, and the NBA championship each of the following three years, and twice more besides. Hardly anyone has doubted Fisher's place in that Laker dynasty.
But according to Fisher himself, that shot in Utah was a key moment in securing the role, as title-winning starting Laker point guard, that defined his career.