"Basketball Beyond the Floor"

"...in life, you receive a series of messages in various forms. Those messages are telling you what you need to work on to achieve the kind of peace of mind and happiness we all want" - Derek Fisher, Character Driven: Life, Lessons and Basketball (with Gary Brozek). Some NBA players (and fans alike) choose to ignore those messages and instead complain about the lack of respect or minutes played. It takes a strong individual to stand up and admit to their own faults whether on the court or in their personal life. This is what struck me about Character Driven. Derek Fisher is honest about mistakes he's made in life and on the court and he blames no one but himself. He explains how sometimes he's seen as soft or quiet since he chooses not to make a fuss and remain focused. He admits to being frustrated like when his minutes were slashed to give Kobe (who was just a pup at the time) more playing time. Speculation pointed to Kobe's agent posturing on his behalf for more playing time but Fisher obviously didn't let this affect him when he returned to the Lakers after a brief stint away. He gets really personal, is not afraid to profess his faith in God and makes references to these elements throughout the book. This might turn off those of you expecting a hard-nosed read from an NBAveteran but it is very well written and weaves basketball lessons with life experiences. I have to be honest. This book is my favourite so far and surpasses Hoop Dreams. As you know Hoop Dreams has been my favourite since college. It takes a lot to change my mind about a book -good or bad- so the fact Character Driven has now bumped a book that has been on my favourites list for about 10 years, says a lot. Let's get to it.

I don't need your "charity"

I once worked on a broadcast in which one of the announcers constantly referred to the free-throw line as "the charity stripe". I always thought that was a cheap way of saying "free throw line". Derek Fisher prefers "foul shots" and says most of the time you've earned your way to the line and have to use your skills to make that free throw. He describes how in a series of sprints up and down the court then stopping and gathering yourself to shoot all the while getting your breathing under control is a difficult task. He relates this example to opportunities in life and how we maximize them. A very interesting analogy. Everyone has taken a ride on the "oh no, not again" train and given way to venting to a close friend. Fisher describes these moments as opportunities presented to us and are reminders of our abilities to handle the situation in a constructive way.

Speaking of charity, I have always wondered what happened to all those game and practice shoes players go through. For Fisher, he only wears a shoe a few times due to the pounding every pair takes during a practice or game. He then signs them and gives them away to be auctioned for some local charity. Very nice.

Flip the Switch and Go

As you know, the game of basketball has changed over the years and become more complicated. What was once a one page list of thirteen rules to follow, is now a 61 page document. The original list of rules never covered dribbling since back then, passing was the only way to get the ball up and down the court. This meant you really needed to trust your teammates - and coach. Derek Fisher describes an incident in his college days comparing his coach to the infamous Bobby Knight. Coach Platt (as he refers to him) created such a negative atmosphere in which to play basketball, Fisher's team refused to play unless Coach Platt was fired. To me, this seemed unlikely for someone like Fisher who respects players and coaches no matter what their methods are. So it must have been a huge deal for his team to take a stand like that, much less make him the team spokesperson. They needed to play with Coach Platt for a little while until he was eventually let go. Fisher says in situations like this (and in any situation, really) players need to compartmentalize distractions, flip a switch and go. He needed these skills especially when he found out his daughter, Tatum.

Brick by Brick

Talk about flipping a switch, mine for Derek Fisher flipped for me when he spoke to Pam Oliver (then TNT sideline reporter and also covered the 2010 NBA finals) after a playoff game in 2007. It was obvious there was no script, no "we gave it 110%". He spoke candidly about his daughter having retinoblastoma - cancer of the eye - and how important it was for children to get regular check ups. One of the first stories I did early on in my career, was with a young boy who had retinoblastoma. It was one of the hardest and most eye - opening interviews I have ever done. Here's a kid who may or may not live to see Christmas and talks about his cancer as a "so what" kind of a thing and continues to play with his trains. Cancer can be a very scary word and unless you have exhausted all options and let the disease control you, are you at death's door. This is exactly how Derek deals with his daughter's cancer. He got let out of a contract with the Utah Jazz to pursue employment again with the Los Angeles Lakers, in a city able to provide the best care for his daughter. There's more to life than basketball but it sure helps to be connected to it.

Flick Pick of the Week

Some of you may or may not like this one but here goes: The Los Angeles Lakers - A Complete History. It's a 5 disc set and to be quite honest, if you are a Boston Celtics fan, you won't get past the first disc. But if you can get past the obvious "Lakers love-in", it is an interesting account of basketball history obviously highlighting L.A.'s exploits. It starts with George Mikan, Elgin Baylor , Jerry West and moves through everyone up to Kobe Bryant's era. A definite must see for Lakers Fans and basketball history buffs.

Next week we will be taking on a 700 page beast: The Book of Basketball: The NBA According to The Sports Guy by Bill Simmons. I have heard mixed opinions about this one but it should be an interesting read since Bill Simmons has been hailed a "hoops addict" by many. Happy reading and see you on Tuesday for another serving of Jiggly Bits.

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