The Los Angeles Lakers traded for Pau Gasol on Feb. 1, 2008, giving Kobe Bryant the partner that he sorely needed. The two had a connection seemingly from the first moment they stepped on the floor together, and as Gasol noted, they had even discussed playing together the prior summer, something that was believed to be a pipe dream.
Though Gasol had led the Memphis Grizzlies to the playoffs three consecutive years from 2004-06, they failed to win a single game in each of those appearances. But that wasn’t going to be the case with the Lakers and would be unacceptable for Bryant, who had a singular goal of winning a championship at all costs.
Kobe made that very clear in his first meeting with Gasol following the trade, as the Spaniard revealed in an interview with Brad Turner of the L.A. Times:
“It was close to like 1 a.m. or something and the team was playing at noon that next day in Washington,” Gasol said. “He wanted to see me right away and he came to my room and said, ‘Man, I’m so excited you’re here. Now let’s go win a championship.’ So right off the bat he’s telling me this is where it is. This is what it’s going to be. And he hooked me. He hooked me from that point.
Bryant knew how good Gasol was and what he meant for the Lakers’ championship aspirations and he knew that he needed to make it very clear what the goal was and what was expected. That meant a lot to Gasol and helped him to focus and buy-in on the ultimate goal:
“Obviously I wanted to win. But with that type of determination, clarity, directness, he was like, ‘We got to be on the same page as I am.’ So I was like, ‘I’m in. I’m in. I’ll do whatever it takes because this is what I want too.’ But he showed me the way, just like everybody else on that team. He understood everybody had to do their job and their part in order for us to win.”
Gasol didn’t debut in that Washington game, but in the team’s next contest against the New Jersey Nets, came through with 24 points, 12 rebounds and 4 assists in a Lakers victory and the team would win 14 of their first 16 games with him in uniform.
Some have questioned Kobe as a teammate and a leader, but this shows exactly what he was about. He had a championship goal and even though he and Gasol had spoken before they became teammates, he knew he had to make it clear what the expectations were from day one, and it eventually led to two championships.