THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Fisher gained a measured response

Lakers guard Derek Fisher couldn’t find the handle against Rajon Rondo in the first quarter. Lakers guard Derek Fisher couldn’t find the handle against Rajon Rondo in the first quarter. (Jim Davis/Globe Staff)
By Robert Mays
Globe Correspondent / June 11, 2010

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It took two simple sentences. That’s all Kobe Bryant needed to explain the essential difference between him and Derek Fisher.

After Fisher hit several shots down the stretch of Game 3 to help give the Lakers a one-game edge over the Celtics, the 35-year-old point guard reacted with a flurry of emotions.

No one could blame him. Questions about Fisher’s value to the Lakers cropped up during the first-round series against Oklahoma City and had persisted ever since. Tuesday was a tiny bit of redemption.

Early in Bryant’s news conference Wednesday, a reporter asked if he understood the emotional display of his longtime teammate.

“No, I’m not an emotional person,’’ Bryant said. “I can’t understand.’’

The response was cool, quick, and typical.

Bryant and Fisher entered the league together 14 years ago, and while they have experienced enough trials and successes together to forge an unwavering respect, the difference between the two ultimately defines their value as leaders of this year’s Lakers.

They began in 1996-97 with Los Angeles and were together as they navigated the early stages of their careers in the professional basketball world. Fisher said they have been with each other “from the ground up,’’ discovering how to develop and maintain success as professionals.

The next 11 years saw the highs and lows that Fisher says allowed them to become as close as they are. After three straight championships in Los Angeles, they faced challenges away from the court, as Bryant’s legal and personal problems in 2003 dragged his name through the mud, and Fisher’s daughter was diagnosed with a rare eye cancer that led him to ask for his release from the Utah Jazz to return to Los Angeles for medical treatment.

“We shared a lot of good and bad things in our lives, and so I think it just gives us some commonalities and similarities that wouldn’t be there otherwise,’’ Fisher said.

“Because we’ve been through those fires, we’re just comfortable relying on each other, and I think he knows and I know that if anything in the world happened, if there was a person that would stand up and say, ‘I’m here for you,’ it would go both ways.’’

The two have become so close that Fisher said he isn’t surprised that Bryant would say he’s the only one Bryant will listen to. But the important thing is that all of the Lakers are willing to hear them both.

Bryant has never been known for his gentle demeanor in dealing with teammates, but with Fisher back in Los Angeles for the last three seasons, Bryant’s blunt-force leadership has been tempered by a kinder approach from another respected voice.

“Sometimes, he jokingly refers to it as Malcolm X and Martin Luther King in terms of how we go about balancing it,’’ Fisher said. “I don’t think it’s necessarily him tearing guys up in a way that’s demeaning or belittling to our guys on our team, but just a different style of communicating.’’

Fisher has been forced to navigate strong personalities in Los Angeles. Whether it be Bryant, Phil Jackson, or Shaquille O’Neal, Fisher says he has tried to “fill in the gaps’’ of the leadership styles of the larger-profile members of the organization.

“I’ve always filled in between those guys on how to keep this thing going, because my only concern is for us to win,’’ Fisher said. “I love everybody, but if we don’t win, I don’t love you as much.’’

Lamar Odom says the approach taken by his two veteran teammates has a lot to do with the team’s postseason success.

“You need that,’’ Odom said. “You need balance in any relationship. Everybody can’t be the same, and it’s a perfect balance for our team and our makeup.’’

Robert Mays can be reached at rmays@globe.com.

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