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Wednesday, March 21, 2012
Derek Fisher in OKC just not right

By Arash Markazi
ESPNLosAngeles.com

It was wrong. Like seeing your ex holding hands with the new kid on the block less than a week after you had broken up wrong.

Derek Fisher should not be wearing No. 37. He should not be wearing light blue and orange warm-ups on the Oklahoma City Thunder bench. He should not be mentoring Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant on what it takes to be a champion. And he should not be getting a standing ovation from the Oklahoma City fans when he enters the game as if he is their new favorite son.

As crazy as this lockout-shortened season has been, these were all sights and sounds we weren't prepared to be bombarded with Wednesday night as Fisher made his debut for the Thunder, less than a week after being traded by the Los Angeles Lakers.

Derek Fisher
Derek Fisher received a standing ovation from the Oklahoma City crowd when he entered the game Wednesday for the first time.

The Thunder beat the Clippers 114-91, and Fisher finished with five points and one assist in 19 minutes. As is usually the case with Fisher, the final stat line didn't do his presence justice.

The image of Fisher on the Thunder will probably be the biggest takeaway from the game when this strange season finally ends.

"I am extremely honored to announce that I will join the Oklahoma City Thunder in pursuit of the 2011-2012 Championship," Fisher said in a written statement before the game. "What these players, coaches and front office have created is special. My representatives and I had conversations and offers from several teams, however, this just feels right and this is a choice I am confident in."

This wasn't supposed to be the final chapter of Fisher's career. He wasn't supposed to hop on the Oklahoma City bandwagon with 20 games left in the season and ride the bench of a team with the best record in the West. Sure, Fisher will be able to show off his five championship rings to his new teammates, but no one was saying the Thunder were a 37-year-old point guard with a penchant for taking charges away from winning it all. They would have been just fine without him.

Fisher was the most maligned starter on the Lakers for the past five years, even as the team won back-to-back titles, but he was also their most beloved at times. Even his biggest critics in Los Angeles had a hard time coming to grips with the fact he had been traded last week. Complaining about his age and ineffectiveness had almost become as commonplace as talking about his big shots. He was our favorite underdog and punching bag at the same time.

He was like the older brother you would always tease for being too old, too slow and too much of a flopper on the basketball court. You felt comfortable knocking him because you knew at the end of the day he would probably be there when you needed him. Therein lies the biggest difference between real life and sports. As passionate as Lakers fans were about Fisher as if he were a part of their family, he was just another employee, another casualty of a multimillion-dollar company looking to cut costs.

No one knows this reality of the business more than Fisher, who fought day and night with the NBA for 149 days as the president of the NBPA to make sure there was even a lockout-shortened season to be had.

As odd as it was to see Fisher wearing light blue and orange instead of purple and gold Wednesday, he was his old self at times for Oklahoma City in his debut.

His first basket for the Thunder was vintage Fisher. With the Clippers mounting a comeback, Westbrook brought the ball down the court and swung it to Durant, who swung it to James Harden, who found Fisher camped out all by himself for a corner 3-pointer. After he drained it, Fisher got a standing ovation from the home crowd, as he did when he first entered the game with 1:42 left in the first quarter.

Fisher was embraced by his teammates after the win and once again sent off with a standing ovation. As hard as it will be to see him wearing the wrong colors, chances are that will be the same way Fisher will be welcomed home next week when the Thunder play the Lakers at Staples Center.

"Los Angeles will always have a place in my heart, it will remain a home to my family and my businesses," Fisher said. "But basketball will be played elsewhere and I look forward to seeing everyone on the court ... even if it is in a different uniform."

Arash Markazi is a reporter and columnist for ESPNLosAngeles.com.