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Let’s appreciate a Laker: Rick Fox, the beloved instigator

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Rick Fox made Los Angeles his home not just to play basketball, but he ended up being a more valuable Laker than anyone would have expected.

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Rick Fox receives high fives Photo by Catherine Steenkeste/NBAE via Getty Images

Editor’s Note: For as long as the NBA season is stopped, we’ll be taking a daily look back at players from Lakers history that we can’t stop thinking about. Today, we remember Rick Fox.

Rick Fox belonged in Hollywood.

His IMDB page dates back to 1994. He was married to Vanessa Williams. His hair demanded its own fan following. Fox was drafted by the Celtics and played the first six years of his career in Boston, but he was always meant to be in Los Angeles. His glow up after signing with the Lakers is legendary.

The three-peat Lakers don’t exist without Rick Fox. He may not have the iconic moments of Robert Horry, Derek Fisher, or Brian Shaw, but he was as valuable a role player as any of them. Positionally, he made perfect sense on those title-winning teams, a low-usage wing to fill in around the superstars. For as glamorous as he ended up being off the court, he was exceedingly workmanlike on it.

Fox was kind of an early prototype of a 3-and-D player. From the very first year he got to Los Angeles (after reportedly turning down a much larger offer from the Cavaliers), Fox was a high-volume 3-point shooter, at least relative to the era he played in. The accuracy came and went, though he did make 39.3% of his threes in 2001-02, but his willingness to stand outside the arc and take that flat-footed jumper was what qualified as spacing around Kobe and Shaq back in the day.

Perhaps the most consequential 3-pointer of Fox’s Lakers career came in Game 6 of the 2000 Finals, a game the Lakers trailed for much of the night. L.A. was up three points early in the first quarter but then didn’t lead again until 91-90 in the fourth. With the game in balance, Shaq forced a stop, hit Fox with the outlet, and then Fox drained a gutsy jumper over the indifferent defense of Reggie Miller. Anything that brings a frown to Larry Bird’s face is worth reliving.

Fox was a good defender on the perimeter, though never elite because he wasn’t quite as springy as the best wings. He was also an absolute pain to back down in the post and was really good at moving his feet. Bryant was a monster wing defender during the first title runs and took on the toughest assignments, but it was a luxury to have Fox available to defend secondary threats like Jalen Rose.

Fox and Horry complemented each other quite well at the forward spots, the former more physical and the latter more creative and finesse. Horry certainly had more flashy moments than Fox, but Fox had a way of making his mark. He was never really an enforcer, but he certainly was an instigator. His feud with Doug Christie was a highlight of the three-peat era and probably the earliest altercation to take place in the infamous Staples Center tunnels.

Fox was willing to sacrifice to play for the Lakers. Yes, it was an opportunity to be in Los Angeles and act, but it was for less money than he could have gotten elsewhere. He also accepted a demotion to the bench on his second deal with the Lakers after the team signed Glen Rice. It was worth it to win, and to win a lot, but it bears remembering that he came to L.A. on a leap of faith.

My favorite Rick Fox memory actually has little to do with Fox himself. It was when he was honored during a game in 2006. He was obviously a cut (or two) below getting his jersey retired, but his time with the Lakers earned him a small ceremony at Staples Center. Fox ended up being the undercard that night, because Kobe went off and scored 62 points in the first three quarters, outscoring the entire Dallas Mavericks team in the process. I like to think that Bryant was inspired by having Fox courtside that day and wanted to show out for his former teammate.

His acting career may have started as a side project to basketball, but Fox has been quite successful in his second life. I’ve discussed Fox’s arc on One Tree Hill as one of my favorite pieces of Lakers pop culture, and that just scratches the surface. He’s hilarious on The Big Bang Theory, is appropriately seriously on Mom, and was actually quite good on Ugly Betty. Bob Costas once commented on Fox’s off-the-court exploits during a Finals game, saying it was clear that the NBA wasn’t the only major league he was playing in. He took advantage of everything Hollywood had to offer.

Fox started his career as a Celtic, but he ended it as a Laker through and through. At the end of the Kobe-Shaq era, the Lakers traded Fox back to Boston to get Chucky Atkins, needing another point guard after Fisher signed with Golden State. Instead of suiting up for the Celtics again, Fox elected to retire. Forget everything else — that decision alone makes him a Laker worth appreciating.

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