There were Los Angeles Lakers legends of all ages on hand at Crypto.com arena on Tuesday night, but as the Lakers raised Pau Gasol's #16 jersey to the rafters, it was his former teammate who was tragically not in attendance that it settled next to for all-time.
Gasol and Kobe Bryant, who died in a helicopter crash just over three years ago, were two of the pillars of a Lakers team that won back-to-back NBA championships in 2009 over the Orlando Magic and 2010 over the Boston Celtics.
Bryant's widow, Vanessa, was part of the halftime ceremony, as was Bryant himself via a recorded video from the 2018 Academy Awards when the NBA Hall of Famer won for Best Animated Short for his film "Dear Basketball." In the clip, Bryant predicted that Gasol's jersey would hang next to his one day in the rafters. Kobe also expressed his excitement for the opportunity to celebrate with his former teammate on just such a particular occasion. Sadly, the Los Angeles Lakers legend
Instead, Gasol was left to try to put into words the disappointment of not having Kobe there with him. During a video tribute that ended with a standing ovation, Gasol patted his chest with one hand while holding his 2-year-old daughter Elisabet Gianna, who was named after Gianna Bryant, who also perished along with her father in the 2020 crash.
It was an emotional evening for the former Los Angeles superstar.
The Gasols and the Grizzlies: A Brother for Brother Swap
Gasol arrived in the City of Angels in 2008 after being traded by the Memphis Grizzlies in exchange for, among others, his younger brother Marc.
Pau, Kobe and the Lakers reached the NBA finals in each of his first three seasons. Gasol stayed in LA until 2014, and had stints with Chicago, San Antonio, and Milwaukee before returning to his native Spain to finish his career where it began, with FC Barcelona.
Marc Gasol would become one of the faces of the Memphis franchise, spending the next 11 seasons there before winning an NBA championship of his own in 2019 with the Toronto Raptors.
Appropriately, Memphis was the opponent on Tuesday, with the Lakers collecting a much-needed 112-103 win as they push to stay in playoff contention without an injured Lebron James. The Grizzlies were without star guard Ja Morant, who is being investigated for having brandished a gun in an Instagram video.
After an abysmal start to the season that left them on an uphill journey, the Lakers have finally pulled themselves above the playoff line. Or at least the play-in line, as they now occupy the 9th seed with a 32-34 record.
Pau Gasol's Number Retirement: Celebrating a Spanish Hero
Fernando Martín was officially the first Spaniard to play in the NBA, nearly 40 years ago. The 6'9" center played just 24 games in the league during the 1986-87 season with the Portland Trail Blazers, but mostly starred for Real Madrid.
Gasol was the second Spaniard to play in the league, and the first to appear in the NBA Finals.
Like Martín, Gasol excelled for his country on the world stage, winning silver medals at the 2008 Beijing and 2012 London Olympics, and a bronze medal at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro games. He also guided Spain to a gold at the 2006 FIBA World Cup and played in seven EuroBasket championships, winning three golds.
Jose Calderon, Juan Carlos Navarro, Felipe Reyes, and Juancho Hernangomez were all in attendance to celebrate their national team colleague.
Gasol is Among Laker - and NBA - Royalty
The list of LA Lakers who have had their numbers retired, is a who's who of NBA superstars in and of itself. The centers alone that Gasol is now on the same level as includes George Mikan, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabaar and Shaquille O'Neal.
Kareem, who only a few weeks ago was part of the ceremony honoring Lebron James for passing him as the greatest scorer of all-time, was in attendance to celebrate Gasol, who was a 6x NBA All-Star, 4x All-NBA selection, and was Rookie of the Year in 2002.
Members of the late 200's Lakers who played with Gasol also came out in droves, including Derek Fisher, Lamar Odom, Sasha Vujacic, Metta Sandiford-Artest, Jordan Farmar, and Josh Powell.
Fisher, Sandiford-Artest and Vujacic all recorded messages for Gasol, as did Phil Jackson, who won four of his 11 championships as the Lakers coach. Gasol, who is a finalist this year for the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, sported both of his championship rings - one on each hand - as his number was risen to the rafters.
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