The terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001 shocked the world and tragically ended the lives of thousands of Americans. As consuming as NBA fandom can be, it was a moment when sports rightly took a backseat and the focus was placed on something far more important.
Professional sports leagues across the country discussed how to proceed in light of the tragedy. The NBA decided to wear a memorial patch on all jerseys throughout the 2001-2002 season to honor those who had lost their lives.
The small patch was placed on the right shoulder on the front of the jersey (where the Nike logo sits today), consisting of a red, white, and blue ribbon sitting behind the American flag.
For the Los Angeles Lakers, the 2001-2002 NBA season was an opportunity to achieve something incredibly rare: a three-peat. Powered by the superstar duo of Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles had won the previous two championships with relative ease over the Indiana Pacers and Philadelphia 76ers. However, the world would be a different place at the beginning of their 2001-2002 campaign.
In the aftermath of the attack on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, the country was in a heightened state of alert. The United States was going to war with terrorism, making the Lakers quest for a third straight title seem trivial.
Still, sporting events have historically provided a momentary diversion from the troubles of the world, and a Lakers team led by two First Team All-NBA players in Bryant and O’Neal did just that.
After a successful season that saw them notch 58 wins, the Lakers fought their way to the Finals by defeating their three biggest rivals of that era. They took out the Portland Trail Blazers and San Antonio Spurs in the first two rounds of the playoffs before enduring a legendary battle with the Sacramento Kings in the Western Conference Finals.
The Lakers then easily swept the overmatched New Jersey Nets, coached by former Laker Byron Scott, for their third straight NBA championship. It was a great moment for Los Angeles fans, but the small red-white-and-blue patch served as a reminder of the tragedy that was -and still is- changing the world.