The Los Angeles Lakers is among the most successful teams in the NBA, winning 17 NBA Championships like their bitter rivals Boston Celtics. The Purple and Gold last won the title in 2020, via a squad led by All-Star duo LeBron James and Antony Davis. This phenomenal partnership reminded many about the legendary duos Lakers have had in the past, one of which is none other than the Kobe-Gasol pairing back in the late 2000s. Black Mamba and the 7ft versatile power forward had gone to three successful NBA Finals together, winning back-to-back titles in the 2008/2009 and the 2009/2010 Seasons. Gasol’s contribution to these championship wins was certainly immense, and the Lakers decided to honour his importance to the franchise by retiring his jersey.
12th Laker to Have His Jersey Retired
The Barcelona-born Pau Gasol made his NBA debut with the Memphis Grizzlies back in 2001. During his eight-year tenure with the team, the big man became the first ever foreign player to win Rookie of the Year and also captured an all-star appearance. These consistent performances prompted Lakers head coach Phil Jackson to deploy Gasol’s services in his team in 2008. The Purple and Gold eventually used Kwame Brown, Javaris Crittenton, Aaron McKie, the rights to Marc Gasol (Pau’s younger brother), 2008 and 2010 first round draft picks to exchange for Pau and a 2010 second round draft pick on February that year.
Gasol’s trade to the Lakers gave an instant impact, allowing the Lakers to return to the NBA Finals for the first time since Shaquille O’Neal’s departure to Miami four years earlier, but LA eventually lost to the Celtics during Gasol’s first trip to the Finals. Fueled with the agony of losing to the team’s arch-nemesis, Gasol altered his game with additional physical and mental toughness to elevate Lakers’ inside game, helping the team to reach two more Finals and winning them as well, including a sweet avenge on the Celtics. Many pundits had called Gasol’s dominance in his rematch against Boston’s Kevin Garnett the key to Lakers’ back-to-back titles from 2009 to 2010.
To celebrate this beautiful day, Lakers had chosen a game against Gasol’s first NBA team as the venue for the ceremony. Pau’s no. 16 jersey was revealed alongside 11 other Lakers legends, including Kobe Bryant (8 and 24), Wilt Chamberlain (13), Elgin Baylor (22), Gail Goodrich (25), Magic Johnson (32), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (33), O’Neal (34), James Worthy (42), Jerry West (44), Jamaal Wilkes (52) and George Mikan (99).
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Kobe: “Pau Will Have His Number in the Rafters Next to Mine.”
The Lakers did just as what Bryant said during the Oscars in 2018, with Kobe’s wife Vanessa introducing a video about Black Mamba’s statement during the jersey retirement ceremony. Apart from their solid teamwork and chemistry on the court, the Bryant and Gasol families shared special relationships off the court, with Kobe making Pau the godfather of his children and Gasol naming his firstborn after Kobe’s late second daughter Gianna.
During the ceremony, Gasol could not hide his emotion and sentiments, stating that the night could be even more unique if Kobe, who sadly passed away during a helicopter accident along with his daughter and 7 others, was present to celebrate the moment with him.
“I think I’ve done as good as I could to really embrace it and savour it, but tonight really exceeds any dream or expectation that I’ve had. Obviously with Kobe up there, it just adds something meaningful, and powerful, and sad, and happy, and painful, and joyful. It’s a lot of things. The excitement, the anticipation, the honour received, it’s just so big that it’s been hard to really take it in. I have to keep reminding myself that it’s a celebration. It’s great. It’s lovely. It’s just great that you can experience this in your life”, Gasol added.
— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) March 8, 2023
One of the Best International Players Ever
Apart from winning two NBA Championships, Gasol’s performance on the international stage is almost unmatched. He has won accolades such as two Olympics silver medals, a FIBA World Cup, three EuroBasket titles, three Liga ACB, a Spanish King Cup, etc. The 42-year-old had played for a total of five NBA teams and FC Barcelona Bàsquet (Two tenures) throughout his 24-year professional basketball career.
Elsewhere in football, Chelsea beat Borussia Dortmund 2-1 in aggregate and advanced to the quarterfinal of the UEFA Champions League.