Lakers’ Botched 9/11 Tribute Another Reminder That Sometimes Silence Is Golden


Kobe Bryant tweetIt’s not hard to get a mental image of someone in the Lakers’ marketing department, mallet in hand, relentlessly trying to hammer a square peg into a round hole.

That’s essentially what the Lakers did Wednesday when they tweeted a photo of Kobe Bryant, circa 2001, along with the words “#NEVERFORGET” in a ham-handed attempt at a 9/11 remembrance. The reaction from fans and media wasn’t so much outrage as a collective, “Whaaaat?” and within an hour the tweet had been deleted.

But the Lakers’ botched gesture, along with an ill-worded tribute by J.R. Smith, some needless morality-measuring by Bobby Valentine and a misguided golf promotion served as reminders that when it comes to solemn days of remembrance sometimes it’s best to heed the advice of Brian Fantana: “Take it easy, Champ. Why don’t you stop talking for a while?”

There’s a reason the anniversaries of events like the 9/11 terrorist attacks are recognized with a moment of of silence — because a lot of the time, nothing needs to be said. Aside from the requisite speech by a political leader or the tearful memories of the victims’ loved ones, very little you, I or the Los Angeles Lakers can say or do actually adds much of value. Our silence can be golden while people are left to their thoughts.

Not to get all pearl-clutching and fuddy-duddy, but this is what happens when every person and every brand has multiple media in which to relay their messages to the world. The Lakers used Twitter. Smith used Instagram. Valentine was on the radio. The golf course took out an ad in a newspaper. As a result, a culture of one-upmanship arises in the least appropriate situations.

If the Knicks, Wizards and Celtics offered subtle, one-line tweets to mark the 12th anniversary of 9/11, the Lakers had to do one better and tweet a photo, however distantly related it was to the events of Sept. 11, 2001. If the Yankees’ 2001 American League pennant was credited with helping New York heal, then Valentine wants everyone to know that his Mets contributed more to the city’s cleanup in the immediate aftermath. Even Smith’s well-intentioned Instagram photo featured the predictable “First!” comments.

Some of the criticisms of the Lakers’ tweet took the form of something along the lines of, “What did 9/11 have to do with L.A., anyway?” That’s unfair. The attacks affected more than the people who died or lost friends and family in the twin towers, at the Pentagon or on Flight 93. Whether sitting in an office in California or a dorm room in Philadelphia, everyone felt a very real sense of fear. Nobody knew what would happen. Everyone wondered if a passenger plane would fly through their window next.

In other words, almost every American was affected by 9/11 in some way. A dozen years on, most people are aware of that. They don’t need a “look at me!” reminder that, “Hey, over here! I was sad that day, too! Here’s a picture of our star basketball player to prove it!”

The good — and awful — news is that there is always next year. The anniversaries of 9/11 unfortunately will continue to come, giving everyone a new opportunity each year to get it right. Let’s make sure our symbolic gestures honor the victims and heroes of the day, and don’t simply serve to draw attention to us for showing our sensitivity. Those who were affected the most aren’t necessarily those you yell it the loudest. It can often be exactly the opposite.

Have a question for Ben Watanabe? Send it to him via Twitter at @BenjeeBallgame or send it here.

Photo via Twitter/@World_Wide_Wob

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