Derek Fisher leaves controversial NBA career behind, gets fresh start in WNBA

<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/wnba/teams/los" data-ylk="slk:Los Angeles Sparks">Los Angeles Sparks</a> newly named head coach Derek Fisher takes questions during a news conference in Los Angeles, Friday, Dec. 7, 2018. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
Los Angeles Sparks newly named head coach Derek Fisher takes questions during a news conference in Los Angeles, Friday, Dec. 7, 2018. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

The Los Angeles Sparks’ new head coach had a message for his players the first time they met: Forget everything in the past.

Derek Fisher’s words are as much of a metaphor for the franchise, which finished with a 19-15 record last year and rebuilt its team in the offseason, as they are for his own life.

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Fisher’s reputation as a clutch playmaker on the court secured his legacy in basketball history, but his off-court life has been marred with controversy. He lost the respect of some fellow players during his tenure as president of the National Basketball Players Association when he reportedly worked privately with then-commissioner David Stern on CBA negotiations during the 2011 lockout. He also had a physical altercation with former Los Angeles Lakers teammate Matt Barnes over his current fiancee, who is Barnes’ ex-wife, and last year he became an executive at a company that offers short-term loans to athletes and entertainers, which sparked vitriolic reactions from Jared Dudley and Baron Davis on Twitter.

“Man!!!! Hell Naw!!!! Stay away from this!!!!” Dudley wrote in a tweet.

“Derek Fisher sold us out in the CBA now he selling us out again. Athletes going broke .. let’s make money off of that. #Slapyourself #buster #sellout #BANsyndrome” Davis added.

But when Brian Agler resigned from his head coaching position last December, Sparks general manager Penny Toler overlooked Fisher’s off-court issues. She saw a five-time NBA champion guard and brought Fisher on board.

“The thing I like about him is he's fresh, he’s new,” Toler said in a news conference on Tuesday. “He’s a hard worker. You look at him with the Lakers and he made himself better by his work ethic and that’s the kind of work ethic you need to win a championship.”

Toler added that Fisher knows the women’s game well and is familiar with the college players.

Fisher’s previous coaching experience includes a short stint with the New York Knicks from 2014 to 2016. The Knicks went 40-96 under his leadership, and Fisher was fired just over halfway through the 2015-2016 season.

“Having this opportunity now here with the Sparks, I’m better off having been in New York regardless of the length because the experience is really what has helped me step into this role more prepared,” Fisher said. “I’m more ready to kinda handle anything that comes up.”

Sparks players said they’re excited to have Fisher as a coach. In practice, he shares personal stories and life lessons. He’s also shown respect for veterans and encouraged the players to hold each other accountable.

“He has a unique lens,” said Sparks forward Chiney Ogwumike. “A fresh take that could really help this team especially the WNBA. I'm really excited for his philosophy, his energy and also like to have a dog on the sideline, right? Someone that you probably turn up with when you get an and-one. It’s just a different vibe having a guy who’s been in your shoes, has fought for a championship.”

Fisher’s WNBA coaching career kicks off May 26 in Las Vegas when the Sparks take on the Las Vegas Aces.

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