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NBA lockout: Kobe Bryant, Derek Fisher experienced '98-99 work stoppage differently

Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant

They've already gone through this before, experiencing an uncertain offseason with plenty of time on their hands.

Laker guards Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher both tolerated the NBA work stoppage that lasted for 191 days and cut into the 1998-99 schedule, reducing it to 50 games. But the circumstances proved understandably and predictably different for both players. 

During the 1998-99 lockout, Bryant just finished his second season of his career without an ounce of concern for managing his body or worrying about his health. He simply was eager to play as soon as possible so he could further push himself into the Lakers' regular rotation. The team's four-game sweep against the Utah Jazz in the Western Conference Finals added to that urgency.

"I think I was 19," Bryant recalled in his exit interview. "For me it wasn’t even about being in shape or out of shape."

During this current lockout, Bryant's on the heels of completing his 15th season with plenty of concerns surrounding his health. So much that he underwent plasma therapy to treat his surgically repaired right knee sometime in May in Germany, a controversial procedure that The Times' Mike Bresanahan and Broderick Turner reported to have involved drawing a small amount of blood from the patient's arm, spinning it in a centrifuge for about 20 minutes to isolate platelets and then using ultrasound to inject the platelets into the injured area to try to stimulate tissue repair. Although there are other ailing parts, including a sprained left ankle and an arthritic right index finger, Bryant doesn't plan on having any other surgeries.

"This is a good summer," Bryant said, "for me to train and get strong."

During the 1998-99 lockout, Fisher had also just finished his second season with the Lakers, concerned that the work stoppage might affect his financial future. 

"The timing of the lockout couldn't have been worse for me," Fisher noted in his book, "Character Driven: Life, Lessons and Basketball." "I had signed a league-mandated rookie contract after being drafted so I was moving into my last year of it. Not being able to play a full season could hurt my chances of having a great season and being in a better bargaining position."

During the current lockout, Fisher faces different uncertainty. As president of the National Basketball Players Assn., Fisher is in the middle of negotiations over a new collective bargaining agreement. Although Fisher's own future is secure with a two-year deal with a $7 million player option on the 2012-13 season, his own role is uncertain with Lakers Coach Mike Brown wanting to have a faster-paced offense and the general public clamoring for the Lakers to upgrade at point guard. Still, Fisher's insecurity about his financial future during the 1998-99 lockout contrasts with his outward confidence expressed about his playing career during his exit interview.   

"That's not even a thought," Fisher said. "I don't really wake up and think about my age or not playing again. I don't view that as a possibility right now. I'm aware of the realities of this team as far as the coaching change and whatever personnel decisions are made as far as Mitch and ownership and management. This is too fun to just walk away from, as disappointing as this finish is. There's too many great things to experience. Being an NBA basketball player is a great opportunity and one I want to continue to enjoy."

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There are more differences. 

That included how Bryant addressed his financial future.  During the 1998-99 work stoppage, Bryant was one of five players to vote against the new collective bargaining agreement, something that cost him more than $30 million because it put a cap in the size of the contract he would sign, trimming a deal that could have run well in excess of $100 million down to $71 million.

Bryant's addressing his financial future this work stoppage through various efforts. He's continued his Nike tour through Asia. He's appearing along with Fisher, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, Derrick Rose, Derrick Williams, Tyreke Evans and Javelle McGee in a pair of exhibition games July 23 and 24 against the Philippine Basketball Assn.'s All-Star team and the Smart Gilas national team at the Araneta Coliseum in Quezon City this weekend. The Times' Baxter Holmes reported that Bryant's agent, Rob Pelinka of Landmark Sports Agency, might organize an effort in which some of his clients go on a barnstorming tour in China. And the Turkish basketball team, Besiktas, has reportedly talked to Bryant about joining Deron Williams to play with the team. 

Another difference included the relationship between Bryant and Fisher. 

Bryant in January, 1999 played two-on-two with Shaquille O'Neal, Fisher and Courie Blount, but Fisher sensed that Bryant's struggles with his teammates hurt their relationships. That's why Fisher, as noted by Laker author Roland Lazenby for his book "Mad Game: The Education of Kobe Bryant," spent the 1998 off-season trying to get to know Bryant better on a personal level. "I tried to find ways that we could just talk," Fisher told Lazenby. "Talk about things not even related to basketball, how his family was doing, things like that."

The two currently share a tight bond after winning five NBA championships together and working together as co-captains. The past few seasons, both have shared anecdotes where they have leaned on each other. Bryant credits Fisher as the only person he truly respects in the locker room, while Fisher credits Bryant as the only one who truly convinced him to resign with the Lakers last offseason. Fisher often defends Bryant, pointing out his insatiable desire to be the best basketball player ever doesn't fully register with the general public. Bryant defends Fisher, pointing out his work ethic, positive locker room presence and experience goes unappreciated to a public clamoring for a quicker and younger point guard. 

But as Lazenby noted, Bryant at the time viewed Fisher as part of "O'Neal's clique", causing him to view Fisher's efforts with a "raised eyebrow." But soon enough, Bryant respected Fisher more and more, discovering he often trained where Bryant was at the same time and place and saw how much work Fisher put in on his shooting and conditioning.

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Another difference also points to the team itself.

The Lakers' 1997-98 team were considered a bunch of talented and young players who hadn't quite figured out how to play together and properly prepare for a championship. The Lakers' 2010-2011 team were considered one of the favorites to win the 2011 NBA title, but they fell short as injuries, complacency and basketball mileage accumulated through three consecutive NBA Finals appearances caught up to them. 

The current Lakers roster anticipates a strong transition period with Brown's coaching staff, executive Jim Buss exerting greater influence and possible offseason changes once the league and the players union reaches a new CBA.  The Lakers' 1998-99 team would soon find out they'd go through a transition period. The organization fired Del Harris 12 games into the season and replaced him with Kurt Rambis. The Lakers soon sent Eddie Jones and Elden Campbell to the Charlotte Hornets for Glen Rice and J.R. Reid. And then they soon acquired Dennis Rodman, an experiment that simply imploded. 

"It’s going to be a weird one," Bryant said of the 2011-2012 campaign. "We’re going into a season, which we don’t know what to expect. We don’t know who’s coming back. We don’t know the coach. And we don’t know if we’’ll have a season next year. There’s so many question marks. In that aspect, it’s going to be a long offseason." 

It's unpredictable what will happen, but it was easy to point to how the Lakers mishandled the previous lockout. The Lakers falling in a four-game sweep to the San Antonio Spurs in the 1999 Western Conference semifinals partly pointed to the team as a whole performing mostly the opposite of what Bryant recalled he did during the 1998-99 offseason.

"It was listening to what the old guys are saying - shut up; when the season starts, play," Bryant said. "That’s what it was about for me."

Not exactly. 

The Times' Tim Kawakami noted that in late October, Shaq sent personal letters to each of his teammates telling them that he would rent out the Lakers' usual practice gym at Southwestern College for team workouts during the lockout. But only Fisher, Jones and Rick Fox agreed, for reasons Kawakami said varied because players were spread across the country and had differing contract situations.

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Said Fisher at the time: "There's really no way we can expect to win a championships if we just come back together sometime in December on the fly and try to start winning games ... We both were a little disappointed that there wasn't more of an urgency in our teammates response. But some people may not have received that letter - it's hard when guys are from different cities to get in touch with everyone."

That proved to be an ongoing trend. The Times' J.A. Adande noted that Harris showed up to one practice and lamented how "pathetic they looked." It didn't serve as a wake-up call as only four players showed up the next day.  Later on the first day NBA players could work out with teammates at official practice sites, only O'Neal, Fisher, Rooks, Jones and second-round draft pick Tyronn Lue showed up. Laker officials told Kawakami that there wasn't cause for concern since Bryant, Tony Basttie, Elden Campbell and first-round pick Sam Jacobson were going to join the second day of workouts. But Fisher felt otherwise.

"For guys that are here, we do feel a little let down, Fisher told reporters. "There are a couple other guys who know about it and should be here. That's the way we feel about it. Shaq feels that way, we all feel that way."

Bryant said such a scenario won't occur this time, saying, "I’ll keep in contact with the guys as I always do. Just to check up on them and make sure they’re doing what they’re supposed to do." But it remains too early to know how that will pan out.

Ron Artest is mixing in two hour workouts with filming a reality show, going on a comedy tour and any other random thing that comes to his mind. Lamar Odom has been back and forth between New York City and Los Angeles, working out and promoting his reality television brand with Khloe Kardashian. Matt Barnes is currently rehabbing his surgically repaired right knee. The likes of Artest and Steve Blake have made appearances in the Drew League. Pau Gasol plans to play in the European championships this summer and stay in Spain the rest of the time. Andrew Bynum has recently picked up boxing lessons. And then there's of course the aforementioned activities involving Bryant and Fisher. But as far as whether the team will practice together? Barnes said at the ESPY awards that the team hasn't organized practices together yet. 

But unlike the 1998-99 work stoppage, Bryant and Fisher envision there will be one key difference from their first experience. 

"Just refocus," Bryant said. "Take this summer, some guys will rest and some will train. Some will get healthy. We’ll refocus, come back next year with a good sense of purpose and be ready to go." 

"Great things are born out of defeat, adversity and struggle," Fisher said. "For me individually and a lot of our guys, after the pain somewhat starts to wear off, that's how we're going to start to look at this thing as an opportunity to come back better and stronger than we ever were."

Related Posts

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Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher display balancing act with co-captain role

Derek Fisher's stay with the Lakers indicates strong relationship with Kobe Bryant

--Mark Medina

E-mail the Lakers blog at mgmedin@gmail.com and follow me on Facebook

Photo: Lakers guard Derek Fisher and Kobe Bryant walk off the court at halftime talking strategy during the 2009 NBA playoffs.Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times / June 7, 2009

Photo: Kobe Bryant prepares to give point guard Derek Fisher a hug after Fisher introduced the Lakers' All-Star guard during the ring ceremony to open the 2010-2011 season. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times / October 26, 2010.

Photo: Lakers guard Kobe Bryant reacts after a foul was called on a teammate during Game 4 against the Mavericks on last week in Dallas. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times / May 8, 2011.

Photo:  Fisher fouls Oklahoma City guard Russell Westbrook  in a regular season game. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times 

 
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