And every time he ever comes to Utah again.
This is an issue that comes up again and again. Other fans don't get it and call the boos "classless". Simmons has speculated the boos will give bad karma to the Jazz forever.
The common refrain is this: "How can you boo a guy who left because his daughter had cancer. And besides, leaving actually left the Jazz in better shape, financially. And it let the team try to find a real SG, instead of using a converted PG shooting 38%. The Jazz were better off with him only playing one year."
Ah, you silly fools. You are attempting logic.
In matters of love and fandom, logic only goes so far. In this case, we're dealing with emotions, with the hurt of being rejected, the perception that a magical night, a magical ovation for a sub-par player meant nothing to him, that he really wanted to get away from us the whole time, and that he was ultimately willing to use his daughter's illness as a manipulative ploy.
When you percieve things this way ... well, emotions will win out every time.
Read on to understand. You may not agree with it. I'm not sure I agree with it. I wish the boos would stop. But I understand where they come from and why they will continue. And I'm hoping I can help everyone at least understand.
Let's imagine a little story together.
You are single guy. You're successful professionally, likable personally, and have some unique characteristics that make you an all-around great dude. But you just can't get past a reputation as a total dork and doofus. It's been haunting you since Jr. high and has never gone away. When you tried to flirt, girls ignored you and turned away. You got at laughed when you mustered the courage to ask someone out to prom. You've been stood up a dozen times.
For the most part, you're okay with it all. As mentioned before, by every other metric you're a successful, happy person. You've come to terms with your dorky reputation, and live a good life despite it all. You've found people to give you a chance despite the reputation, and have had some good relationships.
But the reputation still bugs you if it comes up.
One day you hear that a certain gal has broken up with her boyfriend. She's not necessarily the most gorgeous gal to ever walk the earth, but you've known her a long time. She seems very stable, down-to-earth, and still attractive enough. You've always had a crush on her, and though she's not the kind of girlfriend a 16-year-old brags about, she's the kind that a 28-year-old is happy to have.
And she's been dating a total jerk since high school. Not just any jerk, but the popular dude who tormented you daily in the worst of the worst days of Jr. high, a dude you silently stewed over every time he was voted class president. A dude who got all the breaks, who could get all the girls, who could do anything just because his daddy was rich. And he flaunted it around, bragged about it, and spent most of his life being a total dick because of it. Oh, and he lives in L.A.
Well, this girl breaks up with him. After a while, a friend sets you up with her. You're excited. She could be exactly what you need in your life right now. And you get stood up. You get set up again. Stood up. And then again, you get stood up. Finally, on the fourth try, she shows up. She insists stuff came up, that she was excited to go out with you, but you know your reputation and you kind of wonder.
Well, the first date goes okay, and you continue going out. It goes pretty well. It's not perfect, it turns out she's probably not the ideal mate forever. But you have good times together, and you genuinely enjoy that she's your girlfriend. She seems to like being with you.
Then you go on a trip together. It's one of the greatest times of your life. Seems to be for her too. You think: "She may not be the right girl to spend forever with, but man I'd be crazy to not want to be with her right now."
A couple weeks later, she asks to break up with you. She says her sister's sick in New York, and as much as she enjoys being with you, she needs to be there to help out. You say, okay. You're kind of bummed, but you also remember she wasn't right for you forever. So you agree to go separate ways amiably.
Within two days you hear she's back with her old boyfriend, the rich dick, riding in his convertible Ferraris, sporting new sunglasses to shield herself from the Southern California sun.
She tells you: "Oh, I didn't mean I was going to live in New York, just that I needed to be available. And it's cheaper to fly to New York from L.A., so you know ..."
* * *
That's the story of Derek Fisher and the Utah Jazz.
We have the bad rep. We have the history of Derek "You go live in Utah" Harper. Of Roni Seikaly. We know we don't get the sexy free agents.
But we had Sloan, Stockton, and Malone. Later we had Deron and AK. Right now we have a young team playing games the right way, a team with a pretty good future. We have great ownership. And those of us in Utah know we really do live in a great place (I can't imagine wanting to live in a place like New York or Boston). When players give us a shot, they almost always end up happy they came.
So the reputation kind of bugs us fans. We are, perhaps, over-sensitive to it.
When the Jazz traded for Derek Fisher, he disappeared for a week. There was no word from him, no reaction to the trade, he just disappeared. All we could think about was our reputation. Finally he showed up after a week, the deadline for the physical to complete the trade. He insisted he was fine, that he wasn't mad to be traded.
So he played for us. He wasn't perfect (a starting SG who shot 38% from the field—and people say CJ's inconsistent). He certainly wasn't the long-term SG solution. But he contributed and helped that young team mature, get better. And it was a good year.
Then there was the magical playoff run, with the magical Derek Fisher game. It should have been a classic. It should have been a game that we still talk about. It should have been just a notch below '97 Houston Game 6. At the time, I thought it was one of the greatest moments in Jazz History—for the fans to give the standing O when Fisher walked in, for the miracle of going to OT, for Fisher to hit the dagger 3.
Two months later Fisher asked to be released from the Jazz so he could be closer to his daughter's doctor in New York. One week later he signed with the Lakers. He said it was because the doctors in L.A. would be good for the checkups after the major treatments in NY were over.
And suddenly all we could remember was that Fisher didn't show up for a week after the trade to Utah and how we thought he didn't want to be here anyway. And how convenient that he got resigned to chase championships with the Lakers, the team we're sure he always wanted to play for anyway. The team that gets all the players, all the breaks. Those cheers in the Derek Fisher game meant nothing to him, it appeared. We were relegated to rejected dork once again.
And if he did use his daughter's illness to get out of Utah and back on the Lakers, if it was nothing more than a manipulative stunt, what a prick. (Not if the illness was a stunt, but citing it as the reason to leave was a stunt).
* * *
For the record, I don't think Fisher lied when he was released from the Jazz. I don't think he had already lined up a gig with the Lakers. I believe the cancer docs in SLC (who between the Huntsman Institute, the U, and Primary Children's are some of the best in the world) were a bit too real in their assessment, and he went searching around for a miracle cure outside the lines. And that docs willing to offer him that miracle cure were not everywhere, and perhaps he found some who could treat his daughter more to his liking in L.A.
But reality doesn't matter in this case. My opinion doesn't matter.
What matters is how the majority of fans felt and still feel:
After years of being the place nobody wants to come—he joined the list of players who thought they were too good for us. That we cheered because he was a good citizen and leader for the team—despite some obvious flaws. That we gave the world chills with our cheers during the Derek Fisher game—all for him. And that he then told those fans that it meant nothing to him as he used his daughter's illness to manipulate his way out of Utah and back to the Lakers.
That's the perception.
No, the jilted lover never forgives. The jilted fan never cheers.
Derek Fisher will hear boos in Salt Lake City for the rest of his life.