LOS ANGELES -- It really is just a T-shirt. A keepsake for fans to take home and remember the playoff experience by, maybe helping offset whatever was spent on tickets.
But the message on those T-shirts is important in what it reveals about how an organization sees itself, and its place in the world.
In Golden State, for example, the Warriors had shirts printed before their Game 3 win over Denver on Friday night that said, "We are Warriors" -- an obvious nod to the predicament the team finds itself in after losing All-Star forward David Lee to a hip injury in Game 1 last Saturday, and the underdog mentality the team had thrived on all season.
The Lakers' message to their fans, and their team, Friday night was going to be far more difficult to come up with. It's not as if this proud franchise is excited about finishing seventh in the Western Conference after pulling off trades for Dwight Howard and Steve Nash in the offseason. Yes, the team recovered well down the stretch to make the playoffs. And yes, the team has been crushed by injuries all season. Still, these are the Lakers. A season like this might be understandable, but it's never acceptable.
Earlier this week though, the team's excellent marketing staff finally figured out the perfect note to sound: "Play On."
That's it. Simple, straightforward and honest, without passing judgment on how the team found itself in this predicament in the first place.
The Lakers submitted it to the league office for approval. They were denied. Someone else had trademarked it or something. The details aren't important.
They were denied.
At the end of a long season that could be coming to a close as soon as Sunday after the Spurs took a 3-0 series lead by dealing the Lakers an embarrassing 120-89 loss in Game 3 on Friday, L.A. wasn't even able to choose the message it wanted to send these last few games.
It wasn't personal. There were no "basketball reasons" this time. Just another thing that didn't go according to plan in a season that has seemed cursed from the start.
This being a proud franchise, the Lakers rallied to come up with a good alternative before fans arrived Friday night. In a nod to the legacy left by the late owner, Dr. Jerry Buss, the T-shirts left on the seats said: "Lakers Forever."
And you know, that might have been an even better message to send in the end.
This season has been awful on so many levels. As long as it has felt for the players, coaches, staffers and fans who have lived through it, there's also a sense that it never really got started.
That this group never really got a chance to become what it was supposed to become.
That maybe this just wasn't meant to be.
So instead of encouraging fans to still believe in this team, this season, the Lakers reminded folks of what it means to be the Lakers. What the brand is. What kind of success is expected around here.
Clearly, this isn't it. Every player and coach in the room knows it. The only thing left to play for Sunday is to spare the proud franchise the embarrassment of a sweep.
You felt that walking around the Lakers locker room Friday night after the loss.
Andrew Goudelock just got here from a season in the D-League where he made $2,400 a month and took buses to road games. He'd be happy to be anywhere in the NBA right now, staying in five-star hotels again and showing people he has the skills to play at this level.
While he was clearly proud of his own performance as a starter Friday (20 points on 8-for-17 shooting), the first words out of his mouth after the game were about the embarrassment of this loss.
"It definitely was a little bit embarrassing," he said. "I don't like to lose like that on any type of level. Even though I haven't been here that long, just to lose like that "
When reserve forward Earl Clark was told it was the worst home playoff loss in Lakers playoff history, the first words out of his mouth were, ''Damn."
"Damn, that sucks," he said. "Just add it to the fire, I guess. I don't know what to say about that."
The Lakers tried on Friday night. They were just so severely outmanned, there was no chance. The Spurs, meanwhile, were appropriately ruthless. They saw a wounded foe and decided to crush the Lakers' spirits with a sublime shooting night.
As Dwight Howard would say afterward: ''It's not like we allowed them to shoot 60 percent. It's just that they made every shot they took."
It was cold. Cruel, in light of the season this team has endured.
But now is not the time to ask for sympathy. It's not the time to look for silver linings, either.
No, now is the time to be real.
This season was just never meant to be.