The Lakers were already playing some of their best basketball prior to the move, but Gasol’s arrival helped unlock head coach Phil Jackson‘s triangle offense and propelled the team to the 2008 NBA Finals.
However, Gasol and Bryant went up against the Boston Celtics who featured a big three in Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Kevin Garnett. The trio defeated the Lakers in six games and Gasol’s physical and mental toughness ware called into question as he seemed to flounder under the bright lights.
It took two seasons, but Gasol redeemed himself in the rematch during the 2010 NBA Finals, coming up huge in the decisive Game 7 and helping the Lakers win their 16th NBA Championship.
In a recent appearance on the ‘All The Smoke Podcast’ with Matt Barnes and Stephen Jackson, Pierce talked about how Bryant helped Gasol become a stronger player:
“We had four All-Stars… you know that? He had two, he had Pau Gasol, but he toughened Pau Gasol up. Cause that first Finals, we ran through Pau Gasol… He made him a Hall of Famer.”
Barnes also chimed in, mentioning how Bryant seemed to instill some of his personality into Gasol:
“He made him a lot tougher. I don’t think you can teach dog, but Kobe put some of his dog in Pau and it’s funny that you recognize that… He cussed him out in whatever language he wanted. Whatever language Pau needed it, Kobe would’ve cussed him out in that language. Kobe didn’t [expletive] around when it came to losing, man… He did not [expletive] around.”
Gasol unfortunately carried the ‘soft’ label after his disappointing showing in his first Finals appearance, but Bryant was able to get the best out of him and help him shed the unwanted descriptor. Bryant famously said Gasol needed to turn into the ‘Black Swan’ and the latter was able to accomplish that by playing more forcefully in the post and asserting his will on numerous key possessions.
Gasol was one of the most beloved Lakers during his tenure due to his personality and on-court play and it is only right that his jersey hang in Staples Center someday in the future as he was key in bringing two championships to Los Angeles.