From January 2023
A lot of people were surprised when I showed up with a new look this season, and I suppose I can’t blame them. I still do a double take when I catch a glimpse of my reflection on my way out to the court. Why is there a fake Power Ranger staring back at me?
So, no, I’m not used to it yet, either. Maybe I never will be. But I did have one advantage over everyone else: I knew this was coming at some point. I mean, I am part basketball, you know? I knew the score. Sorry, that’s kind of a pun, huh? Basketball, score. Ugh.
Anyway, so, yeah—I knew the deal. I knew that, at some point, my life would change and now it has, and that’s that. And, all things considered, the change is pretty minor. I still get to go to games, still get to work, see the guys, see Champ, see the fans. I look a little different. That’s all. Mostly this is just cosmetic.
And I guess we’ve never really talked about my—appearance. Have we? I don’t think so. I don’t recall anyone asking me. I just showed up in 1996, and everyone kind of went along with it. I do remember people thinking it was a guy in a suit. But it’s not a costume. It’s just—it’s me. Who I’ve always been.
My mom was one of the original Laker Girls. Yeah, I know! Really cool. We still get Christmas cards from Paula Abdul every year. My dad? Well, he bounced around a bit. [laughs] Sorry. Defense mechanism. I haven’t seen him since I was a kid, but I guess there’s no other way to say it: my dad is a basketball. Yep. You heard me. A leather Spalding, 29.5-inch circumference, absolutely regulation.
I don’t know how to really explain any of it—how he and my mom fell in love or anything after that, and please don’t make me think about the “after that” part too much, haha—but it happens. More than you know. Not just with basketballs. Volleyballs, soccer balls, anything with some air in it. Or so I’ve been told, at least.
So, again: part basketball. Given my, uh, unique makeup, I knew there was a ticking clock. This wasn’t going to last forever. I’ve been out here dunking off trampolines since the Clinton administration. It’s not too hard to understand. Even a basketball with arms and legs and a soul can’t be out in the elements forever. Eventually it’s going to show its age. If you’re lucky, that just means a bald patch here and there, maybe some discoloration. Sometimes it’s worse. There is a weird knot, maybe. When it gets really bad, it won’t hold air anymore, and then you can’t use it. Then you’re my Uncle Pat.
Honestly, I consider myself lucky. Uncle Pat, man, he deflated. Not, like, emotionally. He actually deflated. His wife, Judy, she came home from the store and Pat was on the couch like usual, no big deal. She didn’t even look at him at first. Thought he was napping. Came in to get him for dinner and he looked like—you know that part in E.T. when they find, um, E.T. in the ditch? And he’s all dried out, shriveled up? That’s what Pat looked like, apparently. Yeah, I know. So gross.
Since I’ve been doing this for so long, I knew it was a possibility—maybe even a probability—that something like that might happen soon. And sometime before last season, it finally did. I don’t know when, exactly. One morning I looked in the mirror and I barely recognized myself. My skin didn’t have that pebbly, deep-orange glow to it.
I went to the office and told them what was going on, and they graciously told me they would do whatever it took to give me one more season without a mask. And it was, well, it was just amazing. Maybe my favorite season ever.
I remember when Warren Zevon went on David Letterman’s show after he had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. Dave asked if he had any advice or whatever, and Zevon said, “Yeah, enjoy every sandwich.” I took that to heart. No, I’m not dying, but, you know, I made sure to enjoy every time I fired the t-shirt cannon.
No, I don’t know why they made the mask look like it’s smiling. It creeps me out, too.