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Writer and host, Jordan Robinson, reimagines the 2022-2023 Lakers season as a high school yearbook — Have a great summer!
I have vivid memories of growing up in Sacramento in the early 2000s rocking a Lakers shirt to elementary school. I think my classmates invented the bombastic side-eye. Even my teachers would attempt to talk mess during that legendary Kings-Lakers Western Conference Finals match-up of 2001.
My Lakers fandom had no ties to the zip code I resided in though. My dad was a Lakers fan since college, therefore it was passed down to us like it was hereditary. We knew — as a family — we were winners, so why would we root for the Kings?
My grandparents were Kings fans. And when Robert Horry hit “The Shot” at the top of the key to send the Kings fishing, we were all sitting on the couch in our upstairs family room. My grandparents were on one side, and my parents were on the other. It was like crossing enemy lines to even grab some candy from my Nonnie. After Big Shot Bob drilled a 3-pointer, my parents start jumping up and down yelling with excitement for the whole neighborhood to hear. My Papa held his head in his hands. Every time they came and visit for the next year (at least), we reminded them of that shot — and we’d flaunt our shiny new back-to-back championship rings. It was as if we, as loyal fans, invested the sweat equity in winning those rings, too.
People call us Lakers fans spoiled or whatever, but the standard is winning a championship. As I think of my 29 years of fandom (yes, since birth) a montage of moments and memories fade in and out. Like Horry’s game-winner, or the Kobe-to-Shaq alley-oop, or the Steve Nash-Dwight Howard Sports Illustrated cover or the “Mamba Out” mic drop. This season was no different.
We started 2-10. TWO AND TEN. We were 13th in the standings heading into the All-Star break. I couldn’t pick up my phone without a headline reading how this is all somehow Russell Westbrook’s fault. (For what it’s worth, I didn’t subscribe to that idea. It just wasn’t a great fit. But I really wanted Russ’ LA homecoming to be better received. He always gives 110% and… OK, wait, let’s get back on track here.) It was a rough start, to say the least. But we ended in the Western Conference Finals. What a roller coaster.
If this Laker season had a yearbook, here are some moments that would have a full-design layout. Some with scribbled bubble hearts next to them, and some with an enlarged, “WTF?!?” on the page. Let’s take a quick trip down memory lane:
The Tech and the Tantrum
January 28, 2023
At this point in the regular season, the Lakers were 23-27. The “Westbrick” chants were at an all-time high. It’s Anthony Davis’ second game back after being sidelined for the previous 20. You could probably smell the desperation on the Lakers as soon as they landed at Logan Airport. Meanwhile, the Celtics were sitting at a chill 36-15 record with championship aspirations swirling around them. A win in the Garden at this time would’ve been resurrecting.
The game went down to the final seconds, but when the refs missed a foul call on LeBron’s potential game-winning layup, the desperation could no longer be hidden. The Lakers had a complete meltdown. LeBron threw an adult temper tantrum — flailing to the court, then pounding the ground with his fist. Patrick Beverly grabbed a photographer’s camera to walk over to referee Eric Lewis and pointed to where the foul was on the camera’s screen — probably one of the most iconic technicals ever. It was a prime-time theatrical performance. No notes.
We end up losing in overtime, and another LeBron 40-point game was wasted. To me, this was our breaking point as a team. Morale was down. It was a clear notion that something had to change.
February 7, 2023
This night was all about feelings. Sitting near the bottom of the Western Conference standings, the focus had completely shifted to LeBron passing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the NBA’s all-time leading scorer. As basketball fans, we knew what an accomplishment this was. LeBron was forcing a few shots early against OKC, but then, in the third quarter, a stepback jumper sealed history. I immediately noted the relief on LeBron’s face as his arms outstretched. The will-he-won’t-he discourse was over and he could take a deep breath.
The game stopped because, honestly, the outcome really didn’t matter in this random Tuesday match-up in February. I have notably been reluctant to accept LeBron in a Lakers jersey. I’m a Kobe fan, first and foremost. But this was a moment worth celebrating. And as a Laker fan, who feeds off of this franchise’s history of greatness, it felt right that this moment happened in Crypto.com Arena, the accolade passing from Laker to Laker, with the 17 championship banners looking on in the rafters. It was a reminder that this is a game. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in the records and wins and losses that we forget that playing this game started off as a dream. LeBron’s dream came true right in front of our eyes. What a treat that was to witness.
Ice in the Veins
February 8, 2023
Less than 24 hours to go in the NBA trade deadline, Lakers GM Rob Pelinka waved his magic wand and made the moves that were necessary to salvage this season. A three-team trade acquired D’Angelo Russell, Malik Beasley, and Jarred Vanderbilt, and it was *chef’s kiss*. Plus, nabbing Rui Hachimura from the Washington Wizards a few weeks earlier added the much-needed size and outside shooting to the roster. It immediately paid off.
The Lakers went on to have the best record in the West after the All-Star break (16-7). It seemed like the roster shift was like a defibrillator. AD was smiling again. I was smiling again. We actually played defense. And we were winning. There was joy, but most importantly, there was hope.
April 19, 2023
Austin Reaves is the song, “Play That Funky Music” by Wild Cherry personified. He’s a flat-out hooper. It’s not always easy to play under the bright lights in the purple and gold. Some shrivel. Reaves? He shined. Steve Blake crawled and Alex Caruso walked, so Reaves could run.
After the trade deadline, and with new faces in the rotation, we saw head coach Darvin Ham lean on Reaves more and more. He’d been there from the beginning and, frankly, he’d earned more tick. But in Game 1 of the first round of the Western Conference playoffs against the Memphis Grizzles (the first post-season contest of his career), AR decided to show us why. He erupted for 23 points on 61% shooting from the field. After scoring 10 straight points in the fourth quarter, Reaves emphatically pointed to his chest and yelled, “I’m him!” No one questioned it. I had the cheesiest grin on my face; the confidence was oozing out of him. They grow up so fast.
May 22, 2023
*Cue “Friends Forever” by Vitamin C* After the final buzzer sounded on the Lakers season, silence fell upon our home. I was on the edge of my seat, but somehow I managed to marry an even bigger Lakers fan than myself. “We weren’t even supposed to be here,” my husband huffed.
A week before we’d clung to the possibility of grabbing championship number 18, now it was time to revel in the underdog story that we rarely get to participate in. We fought through that 2-10 start to the season, two play-in games, and two rounds of playoffs as the 7th seed. We were not supposed to be in the conference finals. The Grizzlies were young and inexperienced; the Warriors fell apart. But Jokic and the Denver Nuggets (quickly and swiftly) derailed our ascension. We thought AD could contain The Joker, hell, we even threw Tristian Thompson at him. It didn’t work. They were the better team, I can admit it. In Game 4, LeBron gave us another 40-point performance, but (yet again) it wasn’t enough.
This was my first season in over five years not covering the NBA for work. It took me back to being a little girl with purple and gold nail polish rooting for LA and riddling my dad with a hundred questions per half. It was nice to be a fan again. We ended Dillon Brooks’ NBA career. We set Russ free. LeBron hinted at retiring (we all know he’s not retiring). Memes were made. Rumors were spread. Tears were shed. The 2022-23 season was a wild ride, but I wouldn’t change my Laker fandom for anything — H.A.G.S.
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