There are moments.
Defining moments that remind us why we love the things we love. Whether it’s the way she smiles or that perfect note of your favorite song, these moments elucidate who we were, who we are, and who we are going to be.
And then there are the Lakers.
Each and every one of us has our personal cache of these instances: buzzer beaters, alley-oops, championships, and heroes.
The moments that make you proud to be a fan.
The moments that make you say, “This is my team!”
These are my moments.
This is my Laker Cache…
10. The Chair Switch -
I was blessed to grow up during the 3-Peat in the early part of this decade. And, as every fan during that time, I was glued to my television set during each and every playoff game. My viewing partner and stepfather, Rob, initiated something I like to call “The Chair Switch”, and although it sounds like a forgotten Seinfeld episode, it was a hallowed and integral part of my formative Laker years.
If at any point in the game that the Lakers fell victim to a run or relinquished a lead, Rob would solemnly look at me and say “We gotta switch it up, bud.”
And before he could finish his sentence, I was sitting in another spot and he was standing at the opposite end of the room.
Worked every time.
Case in point, when Robert Horry sank his divine game winner, I was sitting upside down on the staircase and Rob was Indian style on an ottoman.
9. The Forum Fan Fest -
In 1997, Laker season ticket holders were treated to a day of fancy-free at the Fabulous Forum. Players were made available to the fans for pictures and autographs and as a nine-year-old, I was so excited, I could hardly contain myself. My meeting with my Laker heroes was short, but magical nonetheless.
I netted a 15-foot jumper. I sat high above the western sideline and recorded play-by-play with my father playing Stu to my Chick. I got to put on Sam Bowie’s warm-up (why his, I’ll never know).
8. The First Preseason Game -
Every October it happens.
Training camp ends and the Lakers finally suit up for the first time after the long and arduous off-season.
The game is usually awful and the Lakers usually lose, but it is the optimism and hope of the infant season that I feast on.
I love getting to know the new additions. To play the “Who will make the team?” game (Congratulations, Coby Karl!). In 2003 when the Mailman and the Glove made their Laker pre-season debut, I was absolutely giddy with laughter.
The first pre-season game of the 1996-97 season was the only time in my entire life I was able to get my father and my stepfather to watch a game with me.
Although they both deny it ever happened.
7. Halloween 2007 -
I had just gotten off of work on October 31, 2007. I had no costume. I was reeling from the Houston heartbreak the night before. As I contemplated my choices for getups, I was struck with a genius idea!
I rushed home, threw on my jersey and replica shorts, tied a black shoelace around my head and suddenly I was the Machine.
It was the best costume of all time.
As I cruised Santa Monica Boulevard, I kept hearing “Hey, look it’s Sasha!”
And for the record, I don’t like Sasha Vujacic because he has shaggy hair and a scruffy beard. I like Sasha Vujacic because I have shaggy hair and a scruffy beard.
6. “Why does Hayley get to go to the game?” -
It is a question for the ages, a question that I have never received a satisfactory answer to.
Whenever I find out my sister is going to a Laker game with my father I always remind her that she doesn’t care and that I’m the Laker child of record.
Although she thoroughly denies this, I still hold firm in my belief that she doesn’t care nearly as much about the team as I do.
She cares about how cute Chris Mihm is.
At this point, I see it as just a rite of passage for her to attend a game. She was devastated when Wally Szczerbiak was traded because she was banking on going to the upcoming game against the Sonics to see him in all his hair-gelled glory.
Now, without that bargaining chip, I own that seat.
5. Pau Gasol Sáez -
February 1, 2008, my cell phone rings.
I am sleeping way too late.
It’s my Dad.
I groggily greet him with a “Hello.” The other end is buzzing.“DID YOU HEAR!?” he excitedly exclaims.
I haven’t heard him this excited since the release of Jimmy Buffett’s last album.
I’m beginning to gain consciousness and sensing the fervor in his voice, I say “What’s up?” Being the kind of fan I am, he was shocked that I had not yet been briefed by my daily reading of Deadspin or visit with Wilbon and Kornheiser.
The titillation in his tone was enough.
Seriously, I was preparing for him to tell me he just won an inordinate amount of money or finally realized his dream and was forming a hardcore street dance crew.
Instead he uttered the second most beautiful sentence I have ever heard: “Kwame Brown, Javaris Crittenton and two First rounders for…guess who?”
How could he do this to me! THE SUSPENSE!! I didn’t want to guess, I wanted answers. My mind racing and heart palpitating, I asked him “WHO!?”
“What would be the best thing I could possibly say?” he asked, glib as possible. He loved stringing me along.
I decided not to speak.
My father then uttered the first most beautiful sentence I have ever heard, “Pau Gasol.”
I could not believe it, I had been scooped by my father and his close friend Rob Corn. It was a coup that I did not see coming. Blindsided, I stumbled to my Macbook and was greeted with the news.
4. The Return of Magic -
I never got to see Magic Johnson play before he retired in 1992.
Okay, that is not entirely true. Between 1988 and 1992 I was a toddler preoccupied with more pressing issues like teething and my woobie. Basketball was pretty low on my radar.
When he announced a valiant comeback in 1996, my eight year-old face nearly melted.
My hero, my Magic was coming back.
I had seen videotaped games. I had read his autobiography. I had worn his number 32 jersey.
On January 30, 1996 it happened. I walked (more like floated) into the Great Western Forum, and suddenly, there he was.
The venerable Lawrence Tanter made my dream a reality, his booming voice bellowed, “In his thirteenth campaign, from Michigan State University, number 32, Magic Johnson!”
The tears followed soon after.
Magic put on a show.
In his first game in four seasons, he nearly achieved a triple double with 19 points, 10 assists and 8 rebounds.
3. Kobewatch 2007! -
I brought something special along for number 3 on my list.
The Wayback Machine. Yes. That Wayback Machine. Sherman, Mr. Peabody, the whole thing.
Lets travel all the way back to say… late May 2007.
A simpler time indeed.
I had just celebrated the Thirtieth Anniversary of Star Wars. LOST’s eason finale left me completely bewildered and as I sat in a Burbank airport lobby, waiting for my perpetually delayed flight, my whole world came crashing down.
Kobe wanted to be traded.
The Kobe I had watched grow up from a grinning sixteen year-old kid into my infallible basketball God. It couldn’t be! I felt trapped.
Not breathing. Life ending. Laker mourning.
Over the next five months Kobe Bryant held this city, had this entire UNIVERSE hostage. Will they or won’t they? And if they do, who would the Lakers get in return!?
Local radio show hosts, and my personal heroes, Petros Papadakis and Matt “Money” Smith, decided to dispatch their minions all about Southern California to find reaction from places as varied as Raging Waters all the way to the former site of Santa’s Village.
After a hellish summer of parking lot videos and meetings in Spain, if some ghost of Laker Future (I like to imagine him as Chick Hearn in a flowing white robe) had told me that with roughly twenty games remaining, the Lakers would be battling for the top spot in the West, Pau FREAKIN’ Gasol would be the starting Center, Kobe would be not only content, but popping the word “LAKERS” on his jersey in fits of pride, and Andrew Bynum would be blossoming into one of the leagues premiere Big Men, I would have laughed at my ghastly guide and simply said “Quiet, you” at the notion that the fractured Lakers would make such a dramatic turnaround.
Wounds healed. Fences mended. Laker hope.
Sometimes the best trades are the ones you don’t make.
2. Game 5 of the 2000 NBA Finals -
The only time I ever rooted against the Lakers.
I watched nervously from my booth at a local restaurant.
The Lakers were one game away from clinching their first championship since 1988. I would not dare speak it, but in my head was the unfathomable mantra “Let’s go Pacers! Let’s go Pacers!”
Why was I so against the Forum Blue and Gold?
I knew if they made it to game 6, I would be at Staples Center.
The Lakers lost 120-87. My night of treason yielded a 33 point drubbing.
I am not proud of my actions. Yet without them, my Number One would not exist…
1. The Championship (with Riots!) -
I had waited 12 years for this moment.
I had seen hundreds of games.
I had cried when they were bounced from the playoffs in years past, but this year my tears flowed as Shaquille O’Neal hoisted the Larry O’Brien Trophy high into the air.
As I leapt into my Dad’s arms (Kobe and Shaq-style) and screamed at the top of my lungs, teardrops of joy streaming down my face, I realized through everything, the Lakers would always be there.
That no matter what happened in life and no matter how much I changed, I would always love this team.
Soaked in confetti and hoarse beyond reason, we walked to the Team L.A. store to purchase our official Locker Room T-Shirts and Caps. Outside Staples Center however, pandemonium was setting in. Cars were set ablaze, fans were smashing windows and I stood fifty feet from a giant police officer yelling at me to “Get away from the glass, kid!”
I simply looked at him and put my hand up, and the officer obliged, giving me the most thunderous high-five I have ever received.
It was just that kind of night.
So those are my memories. My moments. My Laker Cache. The fun part of this is that every single member of the Laker family has their own list and their own stories.
Especially Jerry West.
Players are fans of this great game, too.
It is these moments that tie you to the squad and that define our fandom.
So now it’s your turn.
Reminisce. Digress. Recollect.