On Tuesday night, the Los Angeles Lakers honored legendary big man Pau Gasol by placing his No. 16 jersey into the rafters. That jersey now sits right next to the No. 24 of his fallen friend and brother, the late, great Kobe Bryant.
The bond that Gasol and Kobe shared was one that was built over many years and was both on and off the court. In terms of basketball itself, Gasol reflected on how Kobe inspired and elevated him.
“He definitely inspired me and showed me what it took to be the best player that you could be,” Gasol said following Tuesday’s ceremony. “The work ethic, the dedication, the mindset going into it. He challenged me to be better. With his actions, with his work, but also he was very intentional with his actions, and I was in, I was all the way in. So I would go as far as he would want me to go and I wanted to win and it was some very special times, very special years. He really elevated me, I think as he did with most of the players that we had, I think all of us. When you’re around a player or person of that caliber that demands excellence of himself and everybody else I think that’s something that you wanna be around.
“What I tried to do was compliment him,” Gasol continued. “Really provide as much as he needed and the team needed at the time. I had to evolve as a player to be better, in order to be that second great player of our team and I put my mind and effort and heart into it, to do that. I think looking back, three straight finals, it’s not easy to do. I try to compliment him, we connected at an intellectual level too, I tried to catch the passes he would throw my way and make plays, make plays on both ends. That’s what the team needed, that’s what he expected of me, and that’s what I wanted to provide.”
And Gasol did exactly that, bouncing back after the loss in the 2008 NBA Finals to the Boston Celtics to bring the Lakers back-to-back championships in 2009 and 2010, getting revenge on Boston in that second win. But the loss in 2008 did bring some criticism Gasol’s way.
Some called Gasol ‘soft’ after the Lakers were dominated physically and there have been stories about how Kobe approached Gasol following the Finals loss. But Gasol says Bryant never called him soft or approach him in any bad way, though the big man did confirm another famous Kobe story leading into the following year.
“After the  Finals he never approached me that way, it was more of the media that made a big deal about us, and me personally kind of falling short physically from the challenge of the Celtics at the time,” Gasol noted. “Obviously it hurt, it was painful for us and for me personally to lose those Finals because you never know. I’d never played in a Finals before and you never know if you’re gonna play another one. There’s many great player and teams that haven’t played Finals. Again, it hurt, it was a missed opportunity, but it was an opportunity for growth and we grew. I grew personally, I took it personally. What Kobe did, we faced each other in Beijing in the Olympics, you guys have seen the ‘Redeem Team’ it shows a little bit of that and how he challenged also me and kind of motivated his team by making plays and making a statement and it worked for them.
“But then what he did is, the first day of training camp he put that gold medal in my chair in the locker room and I see it and I look at him and he’s giggling right? But then he comes to me and says ‘Hey, you lost to the Celtics last June, you lose to us, let’s not make it three in a row for you. I’m doing it for you,’ like he was really thinking about me. I mean I was already ready to go and committed to getting stronger and take a step forward in my play because that’s what it required in order to dominate and be the best out there. But he wanted to make sure that I knew where he stood and how much he wanted it. So we were on the same page and we were on a mission that year. We played great and I think we dominated from beginning to end. We had some matchups, we had some challenges along the way and that’s what the playoffs are all about to make you grow and make you prepared for the next series. That’s what we did. I miss him a lot, I miss him a lot, I miss him a lot. But there’s nothing I could do about that, but to love his family. That’s how I deal with it.”
The message was definitely sent and it worked out perfectly as Kobe and Gasol led the Lakers to that pair of championships and the two continued to grow closer. It is clear just how much of an effect Kobe had on Gasol’s life and Pau repaying it by continuing to support his family truly shows the kind of person he is.
Lakers legend Pau Gasol says Kobe Bryant will ‘always be with me’
Gasol clearly misses his brother Kobe and continues to do everything to keep his legacy alive. But even though it is difficult not having him around physically, Gasol knows Bryant is always in his heart.
In a recent interview, Gasol noted that Kobe and Gigi are always in his heart and will be there forever while adding that Kobe’s family is his family and that the fallen Laker is part of all of his moments and accomplishments.