HONOLULU — Through a strange twist of fate, the man known as D-Fish is back with the Los Angeles Lakers. His role figures to be a bit different the second time around.
"It's a breath of fresh air," Lakers star Kobe Bryant said Tuesday regarding Derek Fisher's return to the team. "It's special for me. We came in together."
And, Bryant said, the two have enjoyed a closeness ever since arriving in 1996.
"When we're in our 50s and 60s, we'll still have that," he added.
Fisher and Bryant were teammates for eight years before the mass exodus from the Lakers following the 2003-04 season, when Bryant stayed while the likes of Fisher, Shaquille O'Neal, Rick Fox and Robert Horry headed elsewhere. The team hasn't won a playoff series since then.
"It feels special, it really does," Fisher said following the Lakers' first formal practice of training camp. "It feels like a gift that fell out of the sky. It's an example of how you really have to submit to life."
After leaving the Lakers, Fisher played two seasons with the Golden State Warriors and one for the Utah Jazz. He captured the attention of NBA fans throughout the country last spring when he left the Jazz briefly during the playoffs because his young daughter, Tatum, was being treated for retinoblastoma — cancer in the left eye.
He decided to speak publicly about it to make people aware of the disease.
"It's real-life stuff," he said Tuesday. "A lot of families out there have experienced cancer. I don't see us as special."
After helping the Jazz reach the Western Conference finals, Fisher asked for his release so he could concentrate on finding the best medical care for his daughter, since the kind she needed wasn't available in every U.S. city.
Fisher had three years remaining on his contract, but the Jazz honored his request. Shortly thereafter, the Lakers signed him to a three-year, $14 million contract. Fisher took a pay cut, but it was well worth it.
"She's doing as well as we can ever hope and pray for," Fisher said. "It's wonderful to see her enjoying life at 15 months."
Fisher and his wife, Candace, have four children. Tatum and her twin brother, Drew, are the youngest.
Bryant, Fisher, Luke Walton and Brian Cook are the only players on the current roster who played for the Lakers in the 2003-04 season. Cook and Walton were rookies on that team.
"It's awesome having him back — just his presence," Walton said. "The best thing about Fish is he knows the triangle offense better than most of us."