LOS ANGELES -- The Lakers and Clippers started playing games at Staples Center way back in 1999.
So it took me 15-ish years to finally get to my first Clippers/Lakers doubleheader, which is a pretty shameful span of time for a kid who moved to SoCal at age 9, went to college in the area (something I've been known to mention occasionally) and split my first four years as an NBA writer traveling with both teams.
But Sunday, at last, was the day. I'll spare you all the boring travel dominoes that finally fell into place to make it possible, but things had suddenly lined up in my favor: Bulls at Clippers for lunch; Kings at Lakers for dinner.
Yet I regret to report that, for all the promise this Sunday twinbill held, it wasn't exactly the happiest of occasions.
Now I did get to see a bunch of old friends from the local journalism community, enjoy a rare media-room reunion with my Hall of Fame mentors Mark Heisler and Sam Smith, soak in the Lakers' band and organ that always entertain me more than they probably should ... and even had the unexpected pleasure of hearing Luol Deng shift postgame gears expertly to announce that his beloved Arsenal need to sign another striker while also lauding Premier League surprise team Southampton for its "basketball press offense."
None of that, though, was ever going to be able to make up for what the building was missing thanks to the absence of Derrick Rose.
When I booked this trip home, I uncharacteristically forgot to look at my trusty NBA Black (Schedule) Book until after the arrangements were made, only to gleefully discover that the itinerary selected would give me a chance to see a bonus dose of D-Rose. (And maybe even Kobe Bryant's return from that dreaded Achilles tear if I was really fortunate.)
No D-Rose, no Kobe and no Steve Nash, either.
So no fun.
At least Kobe, as we all know, is closing in on his return. Nash's timetable, by contrast, remains a mystery. But then there is Rose's fate.
Which can be classified as a full-fledged sports tragedy.
Rose is scheduled to undergo surgery Monday on his torn right meniscus and, by all accounts, will do what most young players do in these situations and opt for the meniscus reattachment procedure that would sideline him four to six months, thus likely ruling Rose out for the rest of the 2013-14 season.
As Deng soberly said: "Even the people that don't know him [well] have a hard time hearing that."
That's because Rose is a humble superstar -- as egoless as you'll find among players of his stature -- who commands the respect of pretty much everyone in the league. The next bad word you hear a peer say about Rose will literally be the first.
Which is why the people who do know Rose best looked less than ready to play at lunchtime Sunday, fading away to the point that the Bulls absorbed a 39-point pounding from the Clippers.
Prefacing the following sentiments with repeated reminders that professionals aren't supposed to make such excuses, Deng ultimately acknowledged that the sight of Rose suffering another knee trauma just 10 games into his comeback from that ACL tear in April 2012 "took the wind out of everyone."
"Sometimes with athletes in sports," Deng concluded, "luck has a lot to do with it."
For the luckless Derrick Rose, who never made it to Staples Center after all those rehab hours he logged in L.A. over 18 long months, it sure has so far.