Column: Dissecting the L.A. Sparks hire of Derek Fisher

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Derek Fisher, head coach of the WNBA Los Angeles Sparks, watches an NCAA college basketball game between UCLA and Oregon Sunday, Jan. 13, 2019, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

On December 5, 2018 the WNBA’s Los Angeles Sparks announced that they had hired five time NBA champion and former head coach of the New York Knicks, Derek Fisher, as their newest head coach.

The announcement sparked considerable buzz in the women’s basketball community with many people raising questions about Fisher’s qualifications for the job.

Fisher was fired a season and a half into his stint with the Knicks and accumulated an overall record of 40-96. In his first season with the team, Fisher led the Knicks to a franchise worst 17-65 overall record.

Fisher was hired for the L.A. Sparks job by general manager Penny Toler. Toler is a former WNBA player who is renowned for being the first player to ever score in the league.

During the press conference announcing Fisher’s hiring, Toler spoke about how she put her team’s temperament and attitudes into consideration when making the decision.

“We can go out and buy all the Michael Jordan’s in the world but if the players ain’t buying it, it ain’t happening,” Toler said.

Fisher’s hiring comes after former head coach Brian Agler resigned in December after coaching the Sparks since 2015. The Sparks won the WNBA Championship in 2016 under Agler.

In an article posted to ESPN.com, Agler said that the decision to resign was his own and that he respects both the Sparks team and ownership.

“I just think that sometimes, it’s just time,” Agler told ESPNW. “It’s probably best for everybody involved. I really enjoyed my four seasons I was there. The team—they’re great players and tremendous people. Strong and good ownership. Really good front office. I can only say positive things.”

The biggest question Fisher’s hiring raised was about the distinct treatment between male and female coaches in sports.

For example, would a female coach with no experience coaching in the NBA or G League be hired with such vigor as Fisher was? Would a female candidate even be considered for the job if she boasted a past record such as Fisher’s?

It took coaches such as Becky Hammon and Nancy Lieberman quite a while to make a name for themselves in professional men’s leagues.

Fisher’s hiring also raised questions about other candidates that were looked into for the position. Watching the Sparks’ press conference, one would give one the idea that Fisher was the only candidate that was seriously looked into. With so many other coaches, both men and women, who have experience coaching in a women’s league, why was Fisher chosen?

“I don’t think she’s (Toler) seeing this as hiring a man or woman,” Fisher said on the ESPNW “Around the Rim” podcast. “I think she’s seeing it as hiring someone who is what her team needs right now. I’m hopeful that I can do those things, but I’m also very aware that there are women that could have been hired that could do a great job as well.”

Honestly, when I look at the situation, I think that the Sparks have been caught hiring someone prematurely simply because he had a big name and is a friend of the organization.

Toler mentioned in the presser that she and Fisher have jokingly discussed the idea in the past and that they are friends.

The Sparks should have really looked into other candidates along with Fisher so that they could demonstrate what made Fisher stand out. To hire someone with a record and reputation such as Fisher’s you need a really good reason and the Sparks lack that. Sure, he was a good player and he’s a nice guy, but what does he bring to a team that is already known to have strong personalities in its players?

It will be important to note who Fisher surrounds himself with in terms of staff. The core of star players is still intact in the Sparks and he must be able to communicate and assemble them in such a way that they can close out big games.

Only time will tell if his hire will prove fruitful but for now I’m just puzzled by it.


Mariana Dominguez is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at mariana.dominguez@uconn.edu.

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