(KPIX) – Over a decade ago Chris Fisher was interning at a Bay Area TV station with the hope of someday landing an announcing job in professional sports. In relatively short order the Santa Rosa native was able to achieve his goal, and at a recent Warriors game at Oracle Arena he was sitting at the press table instead of the upper deck.
There are few who find their dream jobs in life, but Fisher’s arrival on the big stage only scratches the surface on his list of accomplishments.
“Sometimes you have a moment where you ask yourself, ‘Am I really in the NBA? Is this really what I’m doing?’” Fisher said.
The 34-year-old became the youngest full-time television play-by-play announcer in the league when the Oklahoma City Thunder hired him in the summer. Nets TV-man Ryan Ruocco is two years younger, but works on a fill-in basis in Brooklyn.
Fisher replaces longtime Thunder announcer Brian Davis who was let go after a decade with the team. The franchise needed a fresh face and they took a gamble of the kid from Cardinal Newman High School whose resume was a little lighter than many of the other candidates.
“You’re always are sending your resume out to see if you get any bites,” Fisher said of the constant struggle to get ahead in an ultra-competitive job market. “Low and behold you get a call from an NBA team and you certainly don’t shut the door.”
Fisher got the bug for the business listening to Jon Miller call Giants games. In fact, Fisher aspired to be a baseball announcer and his path to the big leagues began in the minor leagues. He spent four seasons riding buses between baseball outposts before getting an offer from his alma mater to announce USC men’s basketball – Fisher held that job until the Thunder came calling.
“Every time I’ve thought I had my career figured out, it’s always taken a dramatic left turn.”
Dramatic left turns have defined Fisher’s life. On TV, one would never know that he was once paralyzed from the neck down after a brutal car accident, but Fisher’s heavy limp tells a much different story.
It happened 17 years ago when Fisher was a junior a Cardinal Newman. He and two friends were driving at night on Chileno Valley Road, a winding two-lane stretch of asphalt west of Petaluma.
No drugs or alcohol were involved, just too much speed as Fisher sat in the passenger seat. The car could handle a left turn and ended up flipping over in a ditch. Fisher was crushed by the weight of the vehicle and broke his neck in the process. His friends were unharmed.
“Couldn’t move, couldn’t feel a thing,” he said. “That was the new reality for a 17-year-old teenager.”
Fisher was an active, sports-loving kid. He was an avid skier, but that was slipping away as he was airlifted to a local hospital.
One question loomed large: “Will I ever walk again,” he asked in a panic. “Most of the people that I asked said anything from, ‘No’ to ‘We don’t know.’”
The outlook became ominous as doctors worked to stabilize the spinal cord injury. He stayed in the ICU for months, and even visit from Joe Montana couldn’t even mask the pain of his new identity as a quadriplegic.
The course of his life changed thanks to slight movement and feeling in his thumb – an encouraging moment that propelled months of grueling rehab at CPMC in San Francisco. The goal was simple: get Fisher walking again.
Therapists began recording the rehabilitation exercises in February 2002. At that point, hospital staffers were picking up his legs, simulating movement on the treadmill. By May 2002, Fisher was moving his lower half with very little assistance.
“Hey Chris you’re gonna be really glad I taped this,” a man said from behind the camera. It was clear on that day that walking would once again be a reality for Fisher, and everyone in the room was clapping.
“Let me tell you, it’s a lot easy to learn how to walk the first time,” he laughed.
He was only in a wheelchair for seven months.
“The first time I got out of my wheelchair in public was to a movie,” he said. “I must have looked like an 80-year-old grandpa walking into this movie, but I was proud as can be. From there I went to a cane and I still walk with a cane to this day.”
Fisher realized that if he could teach himself to walk again, he could teach himself how to be a broadcaster. Calling USC football for the student radio station was the beginning of his post-accident life.
And as serendipity would have it, Fisher’s first night on the job as a big-time NBA announcer was back in the Bay Area when the Thunder opened their season against the Warriors.
Aside from having to use a cane, Fisher has permanent problems with his sense of touch on both sides of his body. He struggles to tell the difference between hot and cold, plus experiences numbness in his hands. He says improvement in those areas has “plateaued.”
The rigorous NBA schedule can be tough on people without limitations, but Fisher doesn’t complain about all the airplanes, buses and hotel rooms. Thunder color analyst Michael Cage – a retired NBA veteran – finds inspiration in his new colleague.
“There are challenges to this job,” said Cage. “That dude is up and at it.”
In truth, the excessive travelling is relatively painless for Fisher – child’s play for a guy who recently went to Peru and climbed Machu Picchu.
If Chris Fisher could pick up a microphone and call his improbable path to the NBA, there would be a couple of slam dunk plays mixed in: hard work and just a little bit of luck. It’s been a winning combination more than once.
“You literally have to re-learn how to go to the bathroom, to being able to brush your teeth, to being able to feed yourself,” Fisher said. “That’s the reality of a spinal cord injury, and I got a get out of jail free card.”