Well, no use beating around the bush. It's time for me to say goodbye to you, Los Angeles Lakers fans.
After spending the last six years living in L.A. and covering a stretch of your franchise's history that saw just about everything, I'm leaving the purple and gold for LeBron James, Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving and the wine and gold of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
It has been a privilege to cover your team for you. It truly has. The biggest compliment I can say is that you care. You truly do. From what the color of Kobe Bryant's Nikes for the night will be to what the Lakers plan to do with that seemingly perpetually open 15th roster spot, no detail was insignificant.
The Lakers are a way of life in Southern California. And just like the beautiful weather you all enjoy to be so perfect that an 85-degree day is considered too hot, your standards for excellence with your basketball team are also lofty.
If it's a championship-or-bust credo for the Lakers, the coverage by your beat writers better reflect that expectation as well.
Just last week, I was on vacation and one of you tweeted to me pointing out that Kobe was in Germany for another knee procedure and I failed to write about it, accompanied by the hashtag "#slackin."
The NBA "offseason” is one of the biggest misnomers. The league gets talked about year round and there is always some kind of media out there with which to compete. And you Lakers fans have an insatiable appetite when it comes to your team no matter what month the calendar says it is.
I always knew my work would get readers because of you guys. While that interest sometimes went overboard (give it a break about Michael Beasley already, will you?), I'm grateful I had such an active audience to share with.
While I didn't take the #slackin comment to heart, I do hope I served you in my time trying to ride the bucking bull that is the Lakers' beat without being thrown off.
For every snarky tweet I've received, I have had just as many amazing personal interactions with some of you. From the guys who work at Café Milan (the coffee shop in Playa del Rey where I like to write) who always want to talk hoops, to the parking-lot attendant near Hollywood and Vine who recognized me and then graciously pulled a cone away to usher me into a premium space when I was running late for a show at the Pantages, to the courtside season-ticket holders in the Jackson family that I've befriended and have played countless games of pickup hoops with, the vast majority of Laker Nation that I've come in contact with have been the best.
Thank you for that. Thank you for the tweets. Thank you for the comments. Thank you for the trolling, too. It keeps me going.
When I came here, I didn't know what to expect out of you lot.
I grew up outside Philadelphia where rooting for pro sports teams meant always expecting something to go wrong at the end and holding on to a heavy dose of cynicism even when things looked as if they were going right.
The Sixers won it all when I was a baby and Villanova basketball went all the way when I was a toddler, and then ... bupkis for two and a half decades. My dad got so desperate for a winner that he, along with the rest of the city, got caught up in the Smarty Jones hype. As if a horse winning the Triple Crown could really make up for the championship drought. (Dad was feeling the itch again this summer when he went out to Williamsport for the Little League World Series to root on Mo'ne Davis' team from Philly).
Just about a month after I moved to L.A. in the fall of 2008, the Philadelphia Phillies won the World Series. The drought was over. Not only was the drought over, but suddenly a team I rooted for had all the talent and the deep pockets to be a perennial contender. Suddenly when I'd go home I'd see more and more folks wearing Phillies gear because they were so proud of their team.
Suddenly I started to understand what it was like to root for the Lakers.
You've won a lot. You'll only accept more winning. And to walk around wearing your Lakers T-shirt or drive around with your Lakers flag flapping above the door hinge means you're branding yourself as part of that tradition. It all goes together. One big bowl of excellence.
And so I tried to live up to that by learning from the people that covering the Lakers put me in the position to learn from. It has taught me lessons and afforded me many memories.
I'll remember the first person I saw in the parking lot on the first day of training camp for the 2012-13 season being Bill Bertka. With Steve Nash and Dwight Howard in tow, I asked the longtime Lakers adviser if he was especially excited for the year. He shook his head as if to say no, adding in a foreboding tone: "There's a lot of pressure to deal with. These things aren't easy." He was the first to know. I'll always remember that.
In that moment, Bertka taught me never to underestimate anyone as a beat writer. Anyone you talk to around a team can offer some sort of unique insight or intelligence.
I'll remember walking out of the FedEx Forum in Memphis with Derek Fisher as his mother trailed behind us, interviewing him about hitting the 10,000-career-point mark as the clutched that night's game ball under his arm. It didn't matter that Fish had the lowest career scoring average out of the 300-some players ever to reach the feat. Actually, that only enhanced it. He wasn't supposed to reach a mark like that. Not the short guy from Arkansas with the funky left-handed jump shot. But his passion for the game and devotion to his body let him stick around longer than he ever could have imagined.
In that moment, Fisher taught me to never underestimate yourself. You'll only be as great as you'll allow yourself to be. Fisher was traded two days later, teaching me another lesson: never overestimate how permanent your circumstances are. You could wake up and be traded to Houston or find yourself boxing up your apartment after being transferred to Cleveland.
I missed the Kobe-Shaq days when they were in L.A. together, but I'll forever remember being in the back of the house at U.S. Airways Center in Phoenix after they were named co-MVPs at the 2009 All-Star Game. It was supposed to be their big bury-the-hatchet moment, but I witnessed an awkward scene as they posed for photos with the trophy away from the general media. For a good five minutes they stood there making little eye contact and even less small talk as they were directed by the photographer. You could feel the tension still. Consequently, the next memory I'm thinking of came as no surprise to me: being in Orlando some four months later and hearing a gloating Bryant say he got a "big old monkey" off his back by finally winning a ring without O’Neal.
Even though the national story coming out of All-Star Game was about how far the two had come after feuding for years, what I saw was much more icy than cheery and it stuck with me. That moment taught me to trust my own eyes and ears above how others perceive a situation and to always try to convey that viewpoint to readers.
And it's you all, the readers, whom I've learned the most from. Really, I learned from what you respond to.
Despite your appetite for news and your increasing interest in the emerging areas of the game like SportVU data and next-level analytics, what really gets you is whatever gets your heart. Whether it was trying to explain Josh Powell's determination to Chuck Person's dedication to Kobe's one-legged free throws to Lamar Odom's spirit being tested to Pau Gasol's difficult goodbye, what got me to write those stories was the same thing that got you all to embrace them. It was just about feeling connected. The Lakers might be your heroes and your idols, but they go through ups and downs just like you and me. They just do it with all of us watching.
After six years riding more ups than one guy deserves, I'm leaving a part of my heart in L.A. with all of you.