Editor’s Note: Silver Screen and Roll is thrilled to re-introduce Daniel Buerge to the Lakers blogosphere. He was a huge influencer for years, eventually moved on to what is now Spectrum SportsNet, and reached out to find a new home for his Lakers writing. Welcome back.
I’ve been wanting to do this for a little while. Now that I finally have the chance I don’t quite know where to begin. Truth be told, I’ve started this post three times already. I’m hoping to find a little more success this time.
There are many things I’ve missed about blogging on the Lakers. It’s strange to think that that’s already a time I can look back on with relative distance, but it was a time that I cherished immensely. For some time now I’ve wanted to be able to get back to doing this again, at least on a semi-regular basis. I’m thrilled to finally get that opportunity. Although it is odd that I’ll now be (poorly) attempting to draw page views for a site I once viewed as a rival. Even Karl Malone was a Laker for a minute. Sometimes life is just strange.
Now I’m three paragraphs in and I haven’t even got to the point. At least nobody is going to read this far. Despite my excitement about the Lakers and being able to incorrectly predict things about them on your iPhone screen again, I thought I would skip the Laker talk, at least for our reunion. I thought I could share another story. I’ve been asked it several times, and since it involves most of you, I thought you might be interested in it. If not, feel free to tell me how useless you found this whole thing on Twitter. It would be nice to feel nostalgic.
Let’s talk about Lakers Nation. Well, more aptly, I’ll talk about Lakers Nation. As stated above, you can do what you wish.
Most of you remember June of ’09. It was a good month. The Lakers took home ring 15, taking down Orlando in five games. It was Kobe’s first title without Shaq – and that meant something, even if we all tried to claim it didn’t. It was Phil’s 10th. My favorite Laker ever Derek Fisher crushed poor Jameer Nelson’s defense (because guarding Fish to drive in a big moment and the team down three is what we’re all looking for out there) in Game 4. Life was good. A couple weeks after the champagne dried, I signed up for Twitter. Shortly after that I replied to a tweet asking for writers for MyLakersNation.com. Several days later I got an email.
When I first heard from the gentleman running the account, I don’t know what I was expecting. Certainly more than what he had – and in this case I honestly don’t mean it facetiously. It just wasn’t the fanciful operation I thought I had stumbled upon. At that time, it was little more than a Twitter account and a blog that was populated purely with fan submissions. It truly was for fans, by fans, which was a motto we later wore with pride. But it certainly wasn’t some sort of professionally operated machine. After coming on board I became part of a three-man team that ran the show. Gary, who owned the accounts, Ryan, a Laker-obsessed SoCal resident who just wanted to write about his favorite team, and myself – a college dropout who was working the photo counter at a Walgreens in Eugene, OR. Dream team, baby. We couldn’t lose.
It took some time, but we eventually found our niche and started rolling. We were fans, and we weren’t afraid of that. I always felt that we were (mostly) fair with our criticism of the team, but we didn’t have any problems acting a bit arrogant, throwing around some cliché Laker-hate-fuel (think: ringzzzz). Basically just talking shit with other fans. We loved it, and so did the audience. And that audience started to grow. Like, really grow.
I tell people that Game 7 of the ’10 Finals was the launching point for the site. We had already amassed a fairly substantial following, and had developed a rapport with our audience. They expected us to be there for every game to tweet the scores (remember, back then nobody was doing this) so they could keep up with the game when they couldn’t watch (no apps or push notifications, either). Lakers Nation was how fans could follow the Lakers without having to watch every game. And that’s exactly what they told other Lakers fans. “Oh just follow Lakers Nation,” I would overhear people say every so often, when someone would ask how they knew the score. Never was that not cool.
For another year and a half I ran the day to day operations of the site from my apartment on the north end of Eugene. I used to see Chip Kelly go jogging by outside with his retriever. It was an interesting time in my life. Eventually the site grew to levels that justified a move, so I packed up and headed south. I moved in with a friend (who would become a mentor) in Pasadena, and from there we ran things out of our kitchen. We brought in new staff, had an army of underpaid and underappreciated interns, and scraped by as best we could given our limited resources. Eventually we had an office in downtown. On Figueroa, no less. There were roaches in the office, sure, but we still had a goddamned office.
That’s when things got a bit dicey. It’s almost appropriate that things fell apart the year that they did. That was a common theme around these parts. (See Fun, This Is Gonna Be.) My relationship with the site owner was strained at best. Inconsistent leadership and an inability to adequately manage stress and emotion ultimately became too much. In a charming move, an hour after I stepped off the plane after my first actual vacation in four years, I was fired. At a dinky little coffee shop. Life comes at you fast.
Lakers Nation was a rare beast. We had an enormous following, but our reputation amongst other influencers and blogs wasn’t always great. Hell, it wasn’t even good a lot of the time. A lot of that criticism was justified, and I think we knew that. Our argument was always that we knew what we were and what we weren’t. We tried to walk a fine line between fan blog and legitimate Lakers source – and that wasn’t always easy to do. But we discovered quickly what fans were connecting with and interested in, and that’s what we tried to provide. Were we the LA Times? Of course not. But we never pretended to be. We saw a void in the Laker social sphere, and we did our best to fill it however we could. And regardless of what you’ll say about our content or methods, what we did worked. I know this without question, because when you look around the internet now, nearly every site uses the same formula we were utilizing long before it became the norm. Maybe we weren’t going to bring home any Pulitzers, but we paid the bills. And that’s what we set out to do. We had a motto in our office. We are all Money Mayweather. We weren’t wrong.
About six months after being dismissed I got another email. My former boss wanted me to come back. I answered it the same way I did the first one, years earlier. I returned for another round, but it lasted only a month. I guess you can’t really ever go home again, although seemingly you can just write for a different site that pretty much does the same thing. That’s something, I guess.
It's worth noting that the site's new management group quickly moved on from the original owner soon after my departure. Regardless of how my time ended there, I'll be forever grateful to everyone who was involved with Lakers Nation in those days - especially those behind the scenes. There's a lot more that goes on there than most will ever know.
Soon after I was contacted by the fine folks at Time Warner Cable SportsNet, the local RSN that serves as the home of the Lakers. And you should all watch the Lakers on SportsNet. Every game. No excuses. Watch our channel. Anyways, I was offered a position to build and lead the social media team at the RSNs. It was my dream job and I was 25. I couldn’t say no. Admittedly I didn’t leave Lakers Nation on the best terms the second time around. I may have taken a few parting verbal jabs on my way out the door. Shooters shoot.
I suppose the reasoning behind all this was to try and share a story that I find interesting, although I understand the obvious bias in this case. I can’t truly express how fortunate I’ve been in my short career, and there are still so many times I can’t believe I’m as lucky as I am. And so much of that is owed to you. To Lakers fans. Without all of you, I wouldn’t be sitting here wasting your day. That’s what I missed the most. That’s why I wanted to come back.
So let’s make a deal. I’ll do my best to come back here on a regular basis and actually provide you with thoughts on the Lakers and not some lame story about me. I might miss a week here or there, so I pray you forgive me in advance. In return, engage with me. I know I suck on Twitter, but I’m going to try and interact a little bit more. This upcoming season should be a blast, even if it still involves a few losses. I’m anxious to start discussing it. I mean, look at this Lakers roster. Sure, we’re going to have to be patient a little longer, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be excited about where we are. For Lakers fans under the age of 30, this is the first time we’ve truly been around for the beginning of a process like this. We remember the Van Exel, Jones & Campbell years in the mid-90s, but not the very beginning. For a Laker fan entering this season, it doesn’t even matter who has the ball, really, because the odds are it’s a young, interesting player that is going to be a crucial cog in the future of the franchise. Sign me up for that. Yes, please.
I’m excited to be excited about the Lakers again. I’m even more excited that we’re going to get to talk about it again. I hope you’re a little excited too.