Sunday, November 9, 2008

A Completely Random and Inexplicable Rick Fox Tribute



The term "role player" is used so often in NBA discussions that it has become trite. Being a Lakers fan, I know the phrase very well: if you were watching basketball at the beginning of this century, you couldn't help but know that the Phil Jackson-led Lakers featured two superstars...and a bunch of role players. It was Shaq and Kobe...and a bunch of role players. That was the way the supporting cast was identified. And with respect to Ron Harper, Brian Shaw, and Devean George (and Mike Penberthy, if you're nasty), the three chief representatives for this group were "Big Shot" Robert Horry, Derek Fisher, and Rick Fox.

Horry's clutch shooting exploits are extremely well-documented, and Fisher hit the famous "0.4" shot against the Spurs in the 2004 playoffs, made the emotional, right-out-of-a-movie arrival to the playoff game against the Warriors two years with Utah after tending to his ailing daughter the same day, and is respected for his cool head, experience, and on-court leadership.

But Foxy? He was once married to Vanessa L. Williams, he's a renowned actor (okay, just actor) who had a small role in "He Got Game," he got in a fight during a preseason game with Doug Christie, and he was "pretty" (he once grew his curly hair long and wore it in a pony tail).

But he never got enough recognition as a player, even for one who's job was to merely fulfill a role. This always bothered me, because Foxy was the quintessential role player, and he helped my favorite team win three championships. I love the guy.

Defensively, Foxy was one of the better small forwards in the league, as evidenced by the way he shut down Peja Stojakovic in the 2001 Western Conference Semifinals. Offensively, he was a good outside shooter and passer, someone who Phil Jackson praised in "The Last Season" for his ability to make the entry pass to Shaq, a smart player who never made a boneheaded play and always played within himself. In Game 7 of the 2002 Western Conference Finals against the Kings, he had 13 points, 14 rebounds, and 7 assists. With a potential three-peat hanging in the balance, he stood taller than ever, rising to the occasion along with Diesel, Mamba, Big Shot, and Fish in helping us get back to the Finals.

Foxy won three championships, and every title team has a Rick Fox on it, or someone like him. Two of the last three featured James Posey, defensive ace, clutch three-point shooter, King of All the Little Things. The current player that reminds me most of Foxy is Shane Battier. The Lakers mollywhopped the Rockets at the Staples Center Sunday night, with Battier relegated to the sidelines with an ankle injury that will keep him out of action for at least another month. If these Rockets are to ever win a championship, you can be sure that Battier will have something to do with it, wholeheartedly throwing himself into the team concept, selflessly assuming the Fox role.

Eight years ago, in explaining that the defending champion Lakers were still the team to beat, SLAM Magazine wrote in their NBA preview "I don't care if Shaq and Kobe are surrounded by 10 Rick Fox clones." This was meant as a diss, but to me it reflected Fox's status as the prototype role player, which as far as I am concerned isn't a bad thing.

Aside from an acting gig on the CW network's "The Game" series, Foxy is now serving as an analyst for Lakers home game coverage on Fox Sports Net. He is pretty good. But he was also a good basketball player. I don't know why I felt compelled to tell you all this, but I have for a while now, and I'm glad I did.

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I think that Rick Fox's pivotal role as the lovelorn New York Knicks basketball player deserved some mention. I personally think he took the role so he could say he played for three of the most recognizable and celebrated teams in the NBA (he started playing as a Celtic before moving over to the Los Angeles in 1997).

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