Pau Gasol becomes 12th Lakers player to have jersey retired

Pau Gasol, the perfect complementary player to Kobe Bryant, was paid the best compliment possible by his former team: The Lakers retired his jersey.

“I mean life goes by pretty fast, right? In the blink of an eye, you can be a kid playing basketball in your school with your buddies, then all of a sudden, you’re realizing your dream,” Gasol said before the Lakers’ 112-103 win over the Memphis Grizzlies on Tuesday night. “But tonight, it really exceeds any dream or expectation that I’ve had because 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.”

It was a full-circle type of night for Gasol, who was honored by the Lakers on a night they were playing the team that traded him to Los Angeles. His younger brother Marc, who was part of the trade going the opposite direction from Los Angeles to Memphis, was in attendance to boot.

A black veil was lowered during a halftime ceremony, revealing Gasol’s No. 16 placed in the rafters directly beside Bryant’s Nos. 8 and 24.

Gasol addressed the crowd at center court during the break between the second and third quarters, flanked by his parents, brothers, wife and children as well as Lakers governor Jeanie Buss, Lakers vice president of basketball operations and general manager Rob Pelinka, and Vanessa Bryant, making her first public appearance at Arena since her late husband’s memorial service.

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“I miss him a lot,” Gasol stated when asked about Bryant. “There’s nothing I can do about it but to love his family. That’s how I deal with it.”

Vanessa Bryant opened the halftime tribute with a recorded message shown on the videoboard, saying in part, “Pau was special to Kobe, as a teammate, as a man, as a friend.”

She then tossed to a video recorded of Kobe Bryant at the Academy Awards in 2018 espousing Gasol’s case to be honored by the Lakers.

“There’s no debate,” Bryant said in the video. “Pau, when he retires, he will have his number in the rafters next to mine. The reality is, I don’t win those championships without Pau. The city of L.A. doesn’t have those two championships without Pau. We know that. Everybody knows that. And I really look forward to the day when he’s there giving his speech at center court in front of all the fans who have supported him over the years. And so, it’s going to be an awesome night.”

When Gasol took the microphone, he opened by expressing gratitude to Vanessa.

“I love you, sister,” he said. “I’m proud to be your brother. I’m proud to be an uncle to your lovely girls.”

He continued his speech by honoring his late teammate.

“I miss him. I miss him so much like many of us do,” Gasol said. “I love him. I wish he was here with Gigi. I really do. But I think he’ll be proud. And he was looking forward to this moment. So, I love you, brother.”

The Lakers made it to three consecutive NBA Finals as soon as Gasol arrived in February 2008, winning back-to-back championships in 2009 over the Orlando Magic and 2010 over their longtime rivals, the Boston Celtics.

“Kobe welcomes you and says, ‘Let’s go out there and win us a ring,'” Gasol recalled during his pregame remarks. “And I’m like, ‘OK, I’m in.'”

They won two, and Gasol wore them both Tuesday night — one on each hand.

Following a video tribute during the second quarter, Gasol was treated to a lengthy standing ovation by the crowd, patting his chest with one hand while he held his 2-year-old daughter, Elisabet Gianna, in the other. His daughter was named in honor of Bryant’s daughter Gianna, who was one of the victims of the January 2020 helicopter crash that also took the lives of her father and seven others.

Gasol, who was the second Spaniard to play in the NBA and the first to appear in the Finals, was greeted by several teammates and countrymen from the Spanish national team, including Jose Calderon, Juan Carlos Navarro, Felipe Reyes and Juancho Hernangomez.

A host of former Lakers came to the game, including Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Derek Fisher, Lamar Odom, Sasha Vujacic, Metta Sandiford-Artest, Jordan Farmar, Josh Powell, James Worthy and longtime trainer Gary Vitti. Miami Heat star Jimmy Butler, who played with Gasol with the Chicago Bulls, also was in attendance.

Phil Jackson, who coached Gasol for four of the six seasons he played in Los Angeles, made a rare appearance at the arena, watching the game from a suite.

“Phil, you’re one of a kind,” Gasol said. “You know that, we all know that. I love you. Thank you for encouraging your players to read. Thank you for introducing us to mindfulness. I love you to death.”

Jackson, Fisher, Sandiford-Artest and Vujacic recorded video messages for Gasol that were shown on the video screen during a first-half timeout.

Gasol was the 12th player in franchise history to have his number honored, joining a long line of legendary big men from George Mikan to Wilt Chamberlain, Abdul-Jabbar to Shaquille O’Neal.

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