A year later, Fisher reflects on longest day of his career

The shot Derek Fisher made with .4 seconds remaining in a 2004 playoff game in San Antonio still resonates, drawing huge cheers when it's shown at Lakers games, the wound to the Spurs so deeply embedded that coach Gregg Popovich referenced it a couple of weeks ago as a warning to his team of how games and series can turn.

To Fisher, it's only the second biggest shot of his career.

He'll tell you a shot he made a year ago Friday ranks above it. Perhaps the score and the time weren't as dramatic. The game log records it as going in with 1:06 remaining in overtime and putting the Jazz ahead by six points in Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals.

It's everything that came before that shot that makes it so significant, the fact that it came at the end of a day Fisher and his family began in New York, trying to save his infant daughter's life. The shot came with no time to warm up, in a game he wasn't even sure he would play.

"That shot was bigger from the standpoint of just the ability to focus enough and have enough energy on that day to make a positive contribution to the team," Fisher said. "I think that was bigger than the shot I hit in San Antonio.

"I think that it really symbolized the power of prayer. When people are thinking of you and praying for you, that's how that works. I know for sure that's the only way I was able to kind of get through that day without breaking down. It was a very long day."

That day started in the 6 o'clock hour on a Wednesday morning in New York. Fisher's family had spent the previous two days there, seeking medical advice for the rare form of cancer in his 10-month-old daughter's eye. On Tuesday, their doctor recommended a surgical procedure, and they decided to do it the next day.

So the Fisher family arrived at the hospital at 7 a.m. to check in baby Tatum and get her prepared. Surgery was supposed to start about 10 a.m., but doctors had to respond to another emergency elsewhere in the hospital, causing an hour delay. Tatum didn't know what was happening, but she was uncomfortable and unhappy, and there was nothing her parents could do to appease her. They couldn't feed her because she wasn't allowed to eat before the surgery. Derek Fisher felt helpless, and that was before he finally had to leave Tatum on the surgery table, taking one last look at her as the gravity of the situation kicked in.

"I was just scared, man," Fisher said. "I had no idea what was going to happen after this. We were still learning about this. We were still learning about the cancer and the disease and what our lives were about to become. I think that was the first time I ever thought there's a possibility she might not be the same again."

The surgery lasted more than two hours.

"That seems like an eternity when you're there," Fisher said.

Even after the surgery was over and deemed successful, it was hours before they could leave the hospital. They had to make sure Tatum's heart rate and blood pressure were normal. She had to show she could eat food without throwing up. It was 4 p.m. on the East Coast when she was released.

The Fishers left the city and went across the Hudson River to New Jersey to catch their chartered plane back to Utah. Derek Fisher fell asleep on the flight, and when he woke up, he finally started turning his attention to the Jazz's game against Golden State and the possibility he would play.

"I tired to visualize being out there on the court," Fisher said. "Just trying to think about being out there on the floor, who I could match up against."

Right after the plane landed and he turned on his cell phone, he learned that one of his replacements, Dee Brown, had left the game with an injury. By the time Fisher got to the arena, changed into his uniform and stretched a little bit, the game was in the third quarter. Then he heard from an equipment manager that starting point guard Deron Williams had picked up his fourth personal foul.

"That's when I knew, 'OK, I have to get out there,'" Fisher said.

He went to the sideline, and coach Jerry Sloan immediately sent him into the game.

"I didn't even have a chance to sit down," Fisher said. "That was probably the best thing that could have happened. I didn't get to sit down and overanalyze the situation and think about what was going to take place."

He had his first effect defensively, sticking with Baron Davis on the sideline and forcing Davis to step out of bounds. Then, with just more than a minute left in overtime and the Jazz clinging to a three-point lead, Williams passed the ball to Fisher on the left side, behind the 3-point arc. Fisher immediately rose up and released, and the ball dropped through the net.

"It wasn't like I missed six of them and finally hit one," Fisher said. "That was the only shot that I took."

Twelve months later, Fisher doesn't measure the passage of time in days, but rather in his daughter's progress. This stage in a child's life is accelerated, like time-lapse photography, going from infancy to running around, saying words, trying to talk.

Fisher was granted a release from his contract by the Jazz so his family could live near specialists for Tatum, and he re-signed with the Lakers.

"A lot has changed in terms of me being on one team to another team; that's almost minute compared to a child from 10 months to 22, 23 months, and how much life has changed for them and their understanding of the world," Fisher said.

"And then, just the fact that she can see. We haven't seen any impact on her ability to be a little kid, go to the park and play on the swings and do all the things that the other little kids do. That's satisfying.

"What's crazy about life is when things happen, even what you perceive to be negative at a certain point, it's all preparation and practice for what's to come next."

What's crazy about life is when things happen, even what you perceive to be negative at a certain point, it's all preparation and practice for what's to come next.

-- Derek Fisher

Fisher wasn't happy initially when he was traded from Golden State to Utah in 2006. It was the first time he had been traded, and it bothered him that the Warriors never gave him a hint it was coming. But his season there marked the first time he was the oldest player on an NBA team, getting him ready for the important role he is playing on the Lakers this season.

"Aside from on the court and everything he provides with shooting and leadership, off the court, he's a good instructor for a lot of our young players in terms of how to take care of your body, how to prepare for the game, how to view the game," Kobe Bryant said.

Bryant didn't need to learn any of those lessons, yet he has been the biggest beneficiary of Fisher's presence.

"For myself, he's been a friend," Bryant said. "It's good to have somebody there. He and I have known each other for 12 years, came into the league together, have been through a lot together. It's great for me because I have a buddy."

In turn, the whole franchise has been saved from Bryant's desire to leave. When Bryant was on the verge of breaking free from the Lakers' gravitational pull, practically checking out as he envisioned his trade demands coming to fruition and sending him to Chicago, Fisher reeled him back in.

"There was a point where I felt like he didn't really want to be here," Fisher said. "It was that rough of a situation for him."

Fisher decided the two of them should sit down and talk. They went to lunch before the Lakers played in Phoenix, the second game of the season.

"I wanted info and background on the team," Fisher said.

Bryant, Luke Walton and Brian Cook (before he was traded) were the only players left from Fisher's previous stint with the Lakers, which ended in 2004.

"I'd only known these guys for three or four weeks. He gave me the rundown of this guy and that guy, their strengths and weaknesses, how we can make this work and put this together. From that day, we said, 'Look, I'll give you what you need from me as long as you give me what I need from you.' From that day on, we locked in."

Bryant started thinking in terms of the Lakers and his role with them again. It all turned into 57 victories and an MVP trophy for Kobe.

They won't be celebrating the anniversary of Fisher's shot in Salt Lake City on Friday night. Not with Fisher back in town wearing a purple Lakers uniform. Joining forces with the Western Conference rivals ended all good feelings among Utah fans, which they made HDTV-clear when they heavily booed Fisher in his first game back.

It hurt him at the time, but he's fine with it now. He doesn't need a hero's welcome to remind him of that moment a year ago. Besides, that's not what he took away from that memory. It isn't often a player can say the biggest shot of his career wasn't even the best thing that happened for his family that day.

J.A. Adande is the author of "The Best Los Angeles Sports Arguments." He joined ESPN.com as an NBA columnist in August 2007 after 10 years with the Los Angeles Times. Click here to e-mail J.A.