The Los Angeles Sparks named former NBA star Derek Fisher as the new head coach. This move came after previous head coach Brian Agler stepped down on November 30.
Sparks executive vice president and general manager Penny Toler noted how searching for a new head coach was a brief process and explained how she looked forward to a chance to work with him. She believed his strong leadership and championship experience qualified him for the position.
Fisher has been a longtime supporter of the Sparks and already had strong bonds with the team’s two-time WNBA MVP Candace Parker and Toler.
“I am genuinely excited and passionate about this opportunity. This is an amazing opportunity as a basketball coach, as a person, and I’m looking forward to it,” Fisher said during his introductory press conference. “This city has been amazing, this city loves this team, I love this team, and I’m looking forward to being the new head coach of the Los Angeles Sparks.”
Fisher’s first professional coaching experience was with the New York Knicks, where he worked under franchise president and former Lakers head coach Phil Jackson. He spent almost two seasons with them, amassing a 40-96 overall record. The Former Lakers player was fired during his second season.
Toler saw his situation with the Knicks as a prime reason to hire, believing that the experience gave him more wisdom and insight. Prior to accepting the position, Fisher presented Toler with a myriad of questions about the franchise, down to the strength and condition coach.
“In great adversity, it doesn’t break people, it makes us stronger,” Toler said. “We wanted to hire championship experience. Somebody that can add to our excellence, and the first person that came to mind was Derek Fisher.”
The former Lakers player will be at the helm of a talented and decorated squad. Both forward Nneka Ogwumike and Parker were former Rookies of the Year and former League MVPs. Center Jantel Lavender was named Sixth Woman of the Year in 2016. The Sparks are also the only Los Angeles professional team that has won a championship most recently, earning the title over the Minnesota Lynx in 2016.
Parker stressed to Fisher how she wants to win more championships. Fisher took note and noticed how the franchise needs to create better shot opportunities, improve rebounding and improve their pace.
“Until I won a championship with LA, I didn’t really understand how much it matters to have the experience and the expertise and the knowledge going into a season, and how much that really pushes you through,” Parker said.
Some Sparks fans and people throughout the league did not approve of the new hire and wondered why the franchise could not offer the job to a female. Parker, who played for male and female coaches during her tenure with the Sparks, noted how the coaching job went to the most qualified candidate.
“If diversity is an issue with the WNBA, it’s not an issue with the L.A. Sparks, it never has been,” Parker said. “It’s just about who’s the best for the job.”
Communication, along with his successful resume as a player, were also prominent qualities.
“He’s great with relationships. Our team is a solid group, we have some veterans and some newcomers and we’ve been together for quite some time,” Parker said. “We have chemistry, we know each other and we willing hang out with each other and it is a huge part in what we do.”
In 1996, Fisher was the 24th overall pick in the draft, getting acquired to the Lakers the same night as NBA icon Kobe Bryant.
Fisher was a key contributor to the Lakers ‘three-peat’ in the early 2000’s and their back-to-back Championship run 2009 and 2010. A shining moment in his career came during game 5 of the 2004 Western Conference Finals against the San Antonio Spurs, when he launched a three-pointer with .4 seconds left in the game to win.
Fisher has been a student of women’s basketball since his youth and has been a supporter of the Sparks since its inception. He noted several coaches that inspire him including late Tennessee coach Pat Summit and Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer.
Several Sparks players have expressed their excitement over Fisher becoming head coach. Forward Essence Carson also expressed her support, saying the move was “a good hire.”
“He’s a point guard, when you’re a point guard, you have to know the game from top to bottom,” Carson said. “You don’t only know your position, you have to know all five positions.”