Fisher’s union role helped prepare him for Knicks head coaching job

VIDEO: GameTime’s crew discusses reports of the Knicks hiring Derek Fisher

Most people, when they hear the news about Derek Fisher becoming the head coach of the New York Knicks, think of the veteran NBA point guard, the longtime Los Angeles Lakers role player who entered the league with Kobe Bryant in the 1996 Draft but was an adult, and ageless, from start to finish in his 18-year career.

Me, I found myself thinking of a different Fisher as multiple outlets reported his hiring as Knicks coach by Phil Jackson, New York’s ballyhooed new basketball boss, and Fisher’s old Lakers coach.

I thought of Fisher, the union president who helped navigate the National Basketball Players Association through the divisive 2011 labor lockout.

That’s where Fisher might have an edge over other former players who were hired with no prior coaching experience.

What Fisher had to do as union prez sure seemed a lot like coaching to me, at least in the skill set required.

Leadership? Check.

Weighing the demands of various constituencies, each with its own agenda? Check.

Keeping the guys who dislike you away from the guys, as MLB’s Billy Martin used to say, who haven’t quite made up their minds? Check.

Staying true to your own vision, knowing when to bend and when to stiffen? Check.

Dealing with the media and looking good in a suit? Check and double-check.

We never saw Jason Kidd, Steve Kerr, Mark Jackson or other recent NBA coaching neophytes – no assistant’s apprenticeship or D League prep work required — handle chores as complex and urgent as Fisher did during the lockout. He coped with the owners on one side, his peers in the players union on another, the NBA brass – commissioner David Stern and deputy Adam Silver – on yet another side and NBPA executive director Billy Hunter (with his own undisclosed agendas at the time, as it turned out) on another side still.

Fisher, 39, would navigate it all and generally find the right tone by the end of that day’s negotiating session. Sometimes conciliatory and optimistic, sometimes steely and primed for battle.

Granted, it’s only a sliver of what might be required of Fisher as a head coach. Coping with LeBron James or Kevin Durant, breaking down video to solve the game’s best pick-and-roll practitioners, attacking Tom Thibodeau’s or Frank Vogel‘s defense, pushing buttons to get Carmelo Anthony‘s very best, avoiding an aneurysm while dealing with J.R. Smith – Fisher faces some mighty challenges in his new job, union resume or not.

He’ll also have to deal with the Knicks’ internal dynamic of being Jackson’s “guy,” of being second whenever there is credit to be ladled out – Jackson is the big brain of the operation, we’ve all been told – but first when it’s time to blame (darn rookie coach).

But Fisher stood strong when things swirled about him over the second half of 2011, getting invaluable experience in all those hotel ballrooms, dealing with egos every bit as sizable as those he’ll encounter in the Knicks locker room. And executive suite.

The man has no slot in the back of his shirts and suit coats where Jackson will be able to slip a hand and run him, puppet-like. The Knicks aren’t just hiring a surrogate, they’re hiring a legit first-time coach, a potentially inspired choice


  1. Kimmylovesthethunder says:

    Hey Flewers44, you forgot to add that Lamar Odom could be in charge of the Lost and Found. LOL.

  2. Jii120 says:

    Tru knick fans who really know basketball ask your selfs. What has Steve Kerr really done in the nba that fisher has done a lot more an better career think about really good luck fish get melo,

  3. dmh says:

    I think that given the knicks dire situation at this point with no draft pics, Melo potentially leaving, Dolan’s dumb moves pre-Phil, and the salary cap situation…… this is the best that Phil was gonna do. It has the potential to surprise people. It has some similarities to the Jason Kidd with the Nets coaching hire. That one got off to an awful start mainly due to injury. Kidd got some guys back and made some tweaks and whala the Nets made the playoffs. I think that Fisher can do something similar although Fisher will be a little more handicapped by the past than Kidd was. If Fisher can get Bargnani especially, playing respectable defense, it will be a win. Right now the knicks only have two guys playing anything resembling respectable defense. Also if the guys pick up the triangle decently, it will negate the need for a great point guard. In other words if Felton is able to bring the ball past half court and dump it his services will only be needed for the occasional 3 pointer and defense essentially beyond that. The big problem that I see though is that the triangle is a high risk high reward offense. It takes basketball IQ and patience. It failed in Minnesota with Kurt Rambis due to the youth of that team. It succeeded with Phil. I think Fisher will hit somewhere in-between those extremes right off the bat. It all depends for the future (beyond next season that is) how savvy Phil is running the show as far as talent and whether Dolan screws things up.

  4. Jae says:

    I know hiring Fisher as new head coach of the Knicks will boost morale on the team and within the franchise as a whole. I loved Derek Fisher as a player and will continue to love him the same as a coach. Fisher has been a well-rounded teamate and professional. Many well wishes to him.

  5. LOL says:

    Simply put, Fisher is a person, and Phil Jackson is an umbrella. All the rain/blame is going to fall on Phil, as Fisher watches the rain drops splash beside him.

  6. LordP says:

    I can see Melo leaving..D Fish might be a good motivator but not a good coach for NY aspirations..

  7. Tom says:

    Yeah helped show he had 0 integrity and kept the presidency by lying his way through a short stint with the mavs.

  8. Shafik says:

    I DONT UNDERSTAND WHAT THE LAKERS ARE DOING?!?!? Why wouldn’t they get Jackson? Why wouldn’t they get Fish?!?!! WHAT THE HELL?!?!

    • Why would u get Fish?? It’s a big gamble to get a coach without a track record…..I understand that the Knicks & Lakers are both building things again (& so are the Celtics). But the weirdest thing is that Celtics & Knicks got rookie coaches……THAT IS WHAT I DON’T UNDERSTAND!

      There are some experienced coaches out there without a job (ever thought of knocking on Jef van Gundy’s door? Why is Byron Scott still without a job?? What happend to Mark Jackson??)

      @Flewars44: I totally agree, u read my mind

      Strange developments lately……

      • John says:

        Are they going to get experience without coaching? Just give him some time and he’ll learn from the best all time Phil the great ever.

  9. flewars44 says:

    Are the Knicks just signing everyone based on performance in a job that is irrelevant? Jackson is a good coach, we’ll make him GM. Derek Fisher was a decent PG, we’ll make him coach. Next they’ll be taking Raymond Felton off the roster and placing him in charge of the concessions stands and/or putting JR Smith in charge of Health & Safety.

  10. flewars44 says:

    Pfft. The role he had in the lockout was screwing over the players to make the owners richer.

  11. Mike says:

    It must be such a huge challenge to start coaching a team that you were playing against just months earlier. I’m sure that’s why Jason Kidd had such a rocky start. Fisher is the consummate professional and although the Knicks might not taste instant success, I hope the fans stick with him. He seems like the kind of guy that would babysit your kids if you asked him.

  12. Unkle Daddy says:

    I never liked the Lakers and never will and even after he broke my heart in .04 seconds I still always liked Fisher. Good luck to you, sir.