When Pau Gasol joined the Los Angeles Lakers just over 15 years ago, the Spanish 7-footer banished his ego, redoubled his work ethic and immediately turned this team into contenders who eventually became champions.
Gasol and Kobe Bryant did it all together, and their numbers now hang side by side in the Lakers’ arena.
The Lakers retired Gasol’s No. 16 jersey Tuesday night, honoring the genteel big man who spent the best seasons of his 18-year NBA career with Bryant in Los Angeles. The Lakers reached three straight NBA Finals after Gasol’s arrival in February 2008, winning championships in 2009 and 2010.
“I think I’ve done as good as I could to really embrace it and savor it, but tonight really exceeds any dream or expectation that I’ve had,” Gasol said before the game while wearing one championship ring on each hand. “It means so much, and 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.”
Gasol’s banner was unveiled during a halftime ceremony that began with Bryant’s widow, Vanessa, introducing a video in which an excited Kobe said he was looking forward to the day when Gasol gave a speech at center court during his jersey retirement. Gasol choked up while watching the video and standing in that exact spot, wiping tears from his eyes before he spoke to the crowd.
“I’m just overwhelmed to see the faces here, all of you,” Gasol said. “It’s been my honor to wear this jersey, to play for this franchise and to help this team. … I would have never in a million years believed a day like this could come. It just tells you to never say never. Just push yourself every day to be the best that you can be.”
Gasol’s parents, his brothers Marc and Adrià, Vanessa Bryant and Lakers owner Jeanie Buss joined Gasol and his wife on the court. Gasol’s jersey represents the 13th number retired by the Lakers honoring 12 players. Bryant’s early-career No. 8 and late-career No. 24 are both retired.