Sparks

Derek Fisher Maintains Poise In Crucible Of Stress

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What does it mean to be hounded for failure, despite one’s most determined efforts?

In Arthur Miller’s remarkable play The Crucible, Miller recounts the infamous Salem witch trials. Hero John Proctor, accused of witchcraft, heroically sacrifices himself to help end the witch hunt. Thankfully, Sparks coach Derek Fisher doesn’t have to deal with witches. However, Fisher also faces a whirlwind of stress as numerous scribes call for his job.

Once one considers his poise as the Sparks turn towards the playoffs, the verdict isn’t so clear. Fisher, like Proctor, deserves his side of the story. And while hundreds of fingers continue pointing at the embattled coach, Fisher accepts his burden and keeps his wrist firmly on the Sparks’ light switch of success.

.4 Seconds Versus Two Days

Fisher is also the Sparks’ general manager and knew the team needed a boost after missing the 2021 playoffs. With the signings of paint bully Liz Cambage, “Hollywood” Chennedy Carter, and sharpshooter Katie Lou Samuelson, the playoff’s night sky seemed more than a bit brighter.

But the WNBA is always immensely competitive.

Entering Friday’s contest in Indianapolis against the much-improved Fever, the 3-5 Sparks already had three single-possession losses. Despite a ferocious comeback attempt, LA fell again.

Would Fisher lose his composure after another frustrating outcome?

Nope. If he could triumph in the NBA with .4 seconds left, the two days before LA’s next game surely would be plenty to make a correction.

Compete Your Tail Off

After the game, WNBA Lead asked Fisher how the Sparks continued competing against the Fever despite facing an 18-point deficit.

“I think the team is learning how to do that for each other. Sometimes the only way to do that is sometimes when you feel like all hope is lost or I have no other option or choice but to dig down deep and find a way to get it done.”

Playing on the road during a 36-game marathon presents challenges. However, when the Sparks faced defeat, Fisher insisted they had no choice but to fight.

“And so, it was one of those kind of nights, through most of the game. Indiana’s playing really well; the pace, they were coming at us with speed and quickness, it was hard for us to catch up to what they were doing. As you’re stating, once the team kinda got to a point, our team at least, there was no other choice but to dig down and fight and compete and not worry about referees, not worry about strategy, plays, or anything.”

And not just compete but fight one’s tail off to achieve a higher aspiration.

“Just compete your tail off; that’s when the game turned. This has been hard; we’ve been on the road traveling. That cumulative effect; it’s catching up to us, but we’re still giving ourselves a chance to win every night, for the most part. This has been hard; we’ve been out on the road traveling. It’s that cumulative effect; it’s catching up to us; we’re still giving ourselves a chance to win every night for the most part.”

Fisher allowed that defeat stings but that the Sparks couldn’t go back.

“There have only been two games where we really didn’t have a chance. We just have to find a way to continue to stay together to keep fighting for each other. It’s just, after a while, it just starts to take its toll, especially when you’re fighting from behind the way we were tonight.”

Sound like a coach with no answers? Doesn’t seem that way. In every press conference this season, Fisher has spoken clearly and professionally, expressing his team’s continuous struggle up the wire of competition.

Unfortunately, a coach sometimes has to deal with off-court difficulties too.

Staring Down The Hangman

Proctor, accused of being a witch, tears up his confession when asked to change his name. Finally, he breaks down and allows Salem’s corrupt government to lead him to the gallows.

While none of the Sparks face unjust deaths, WNBA athletes also must handle shocking injustices. After Fisher’s routing remarks, Nneka Ogwumike and Samuelson refused to answer their usual questions, boldly making a statement on the imprisoned Brittney Griner.

Before what should have been an unequivocally happy occasion in Minnesota, where the Lynx retired legend Seimone Augustus‘s number, allegations surfaced of racist comments from Cambage’s Olympic training camp, allegedly directed at Nigerian opponents. (Cambage denied the allegations.) Before the game in Minneapolis, Fisher, first, spoke about the Sparks’ early-season inconsistencies.

“Oftentimes, the best things in life happen after the worst things in life happen.”

Well said, coach; the season isn’t over, except for the worst of the worst teams, after ten games. A bit later, Fisher made a remarkable comment about losing.

“If you lose, or if you lose a few games in whatever stretch of time, doesn’t mean you’re losers. And you cannot carry yourself like a loser because you lost. We still have to be positive.”

Inevitably, reporters soon bombarded Fisher with questions regarding Cambage.

Although sitting down, the 6′ 1″ coach effectively stood proudly against the negativity.

Fisher explained that the “rumors and allegations” (in his words) surrounding Cambage are not new. He explained that the parties involved had looked into a situation that the Sparks and WNBA were not involved with. Fisher clarified that the Sparks made internal conversations and decided that Camabge would be “a welcome part of our team.”

“Right now,” Fisher continued, “it’s something that’s pretty much complete, and this is just folks bringing it back up and expressing how they feel about it.”

Sure, Fisher didn’t offer a definitive and final answer to the bitter accusatory storm. But so much the better for his leadership.

From Gray, To Purple And Gold

Perhaps the most important message a reader can glean from The Crucible is that ethical answers sometimes aren’t so easy. Not to say that anything goes; instead, today, as in 1693, there may not be one correct answer to a puzzle.

What appears to some Tweeters as a mark of black against Fisher instead fades to a confounding gray. Speaking quietly on a somber issue and refusing to shout yay or nay proves to be the best course for a proud franchise that desires a return to a playoff it rightfully belongs in.

Miller’s play had no happy ending: Proctor goes to his death. But Fisher has a different belief about life. A slow start, a loss, a bad news report; none need be the last word in the Sparks’ book of life.

And as LA continues to push for Griner’s dignity and a better world for women, Fisher leads his purple and gold heroines towards a brighter world of renewed championship bliss.

About Jeffrey Newholm

"Jammin Jeff" Newholm had been a basketball fanatic since his high school days, and remained a casual fan as a student in Whitewater. Wishing to check in as an active participant, he also completed a writing certificate program at UWM. He loves seeing Bucks games more than any other activity in hometown Milwaukee and especially screaming really really loudly to get someone to miss a free throw. Twitter: @JeffreyNewholm

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