Ralph Lawler had never let the flu or even prostate cancer stop him from calling a Clippers game in his 36 seasons as the team's broadcaster, and he didn't intend the streak to stop Saturday.
He was scheduled to undergo surgery to dissolve a nine-millimeter kidney stone and was expected to be out of the hospital by noon, well before the Clippers' 7:30 p.m. game against the New Orleans Pelicans at Staples Center.
Then came some breathing problems that required doctors to stick a tube down his throat. The procedure left him nearly unable to talk, depriving Clippers fans of a beloved voice when Lawler was forced to miss the game.
"I really have this show-must-go-on feeling," Lawler, 76, said Sunday in a phone interview. "But it just would have been impossible for me to do a job that anybody would have wanted to listen to [Saturday] night, because my throat was so raw and voice so raspy, and it was not fair to anybody to have them sit through listening to that for three hours."
Lawler and his wife, Jo, returned home Saturday afternoon and listened with mixed feelings as radio announcer Brian Sieman filled in alongside Michael Smith on the Prime Ticket broadcast. Lawler hated to miss the game but was consoled by hearing Sieman, whom he considers a protege.
"I just love him as a young man and a family man and a terrific young broadcaster," Lawler said. "And it made it easier to realize that this was giving him a nice opportunity, and he did a terrific job, so from that standpoint, my wife and I both enjoyed it."
Lawler went on Twitter during the game to clarify reports that he was merely under the weather, writing that he was having surgery to break up what he described as "a large and troublesome" kidney stone.
He expected to return Monday, when the Clippers face the Phoenix Suns at Staples Center, after having a stent placed in his urethra to alleviate potential discomfort.
The kidney stone started bothering Lawler as he waited for the team bus before the Clippers game against Charlotte on Nov. 24. Lawler told his wife he wasn't feeling well, and she asked if it was a kidney stone, remembering that her husband once had a stone extracted.
Lawler wasn't sure until he felt the stone move from his abdomen to his back to his kidney, confirming its presence. He gutted it out, calling the game even after experiencing dry heaves during the countdown to the opening of his broadcast.
"They're going, 'Ten, nine,' " Lawler recalled. "At five, I went, rawwwww .. and at zero, it was, 'Hi, everybody, welcome to Clipper basketball.' It was a pretty unpleasant evening."
Lawler made it through the game with the help of a few pain pills from fellow broadcaster Mark Rogondino. X-rays upon his return to Los Angeles spotted the stone, which was too large to pass without surgical intervention, even though Lawler experienced no discomfort in the days after his attack.
Lawler has called more than 2,700 Clippers games, missing only two before Saturday. He and Smith were suspended one game in 2009 for comparing an Iranian-born player to Borat, the fictional character played by Sacha Baron Cohen. Lawler missed another game in 2010 because of a six-hour traffic jam on Interstate 10 near Cabazon.
Not even prostate cancer could keep him away from the mic. In 2006, Lawler delayed surgery for the disease until after the season so he wouldn't miss any games.
Clippers fans know "Lawler's Law" as dictating that the first team to 100 points will win; it could also decree that its namesake will not miss a game except under the most extenuating circumstances.
"Doctors say it's the closest thing a man can experience to childbirth, the pain" of passing a kidney stone, Lawler said. "It is not a good experience."
Where: Staples Center.
On the air: TV: Prime Ticket; Radio: 980, 1330.
Records: Suns 12-9; Clippers 14-5.
Record vs. Suns: 1-0.