Kobe Bryant’s farewell tour has already produced some internally emotional moments for the always even keel “Black Mamba”.
So far, Bryant’s final stops in his hometown of Philadelphia, New York’s Madison Square Garden and a touching tribute from Charlotte Hornets owner Michael Jordan have all touched Bryant in their own special ways – despite any kind of outward emotion from Bryant.
Tonight, nostalgia will be in the air for Bryant one again, when he moves a step closer to bidding adieu to his beloved ex-teammate and friend Pau Gasol who will be returning to Staples Center with the Chicago Bulls. This will be next to the last time they will be on the same court together as Bryant’s farewell tour has a scheduled stop in Chicago on February 21.
Earlier this week, Bryant talked about his 6 1/2 seasons with Gasol and all the instances in which he defended Gasol when the 7-foot Spaniard was constantly in the middle of trade rumors. Bryant called Gasol a “future Hall of Famer” and “one of the best post players of all time.”
Kobe also opened up, about his disappointment on how the “the city of L.A. didn’t really appreciate” Gasol’s contributions partly because of reduced roles under coaches Mike Brown and Mike D’Antoni to go with the endless trade talk.
“Everybody kind of fell in line with the Mike D’Antoni rhetoric of small ball and all this other (expletive),” Bryant said. “For a guy that has two championships to be treated that way, you don’t do that, man.”
Gasol was the linchpin in one of the most underrated trades in Los Angeles Lakers history nearly eight years ago today. As Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak traded Kwame Brown, Aaron McKie, Javaris Crittenton, two first-round picks and the rights to Pau’s brother Marc, who the Lakers drafted with a second-round pick in 2007 for the then Memphis Grizzlies star.
Many people knew in [Gasol], the Lakers were bringing in a big piece to help Bryant bring another championship to the “City of Angels” he desperately craved for at the time. But not even Bryant or the Lakers famous coaching staff realized just how good Pau was, until he had a purple and gold jersey on and was in the trenches with them fighting for a title.
“As soon as he caught the ball and he finished it, I ran back to the bench, I said, ‘Yes, Phil, we’ve got a big that can catch it and finish! We’re going to the Finals!” Bryant said, referencing former Lakers coach Phil Jackson.
“And Phil just looked at me, he started laughing. But I was dead-ass serious. Then Pau, I come back in the timeout, I’m saying, ‘Pau, the defense is playing this way, so maybe you could go here, flash here and then you look to skip [pass], [and] he said, ‘If I could skip it there.’ So he was able to connect the dots himself.
The Lakers would get a 105–90 win over the then-New Jersey Nets in the third game of one of their famous Grammy trips in Gasol’s debut. The “Big Spaniard” scored 24 points on 10-of-15 shooting along with 12 rebounds and four assists in 35 minutes.
“I immediately went to his room at the hotel — we were staying on the same floor — [and] I went to his room, we had about a 30-, 40-minute conversation,” Bryant said. “That’s the thing I remember the most because that was the beginning.”
As they commonly say in LA, “The rest was history”.
While Bryant remained in his role as the Lakers undisputed number one option and vocal leader, Gasol provided versatility with efficient post-work and natural passing skills to with an agreeable personality.
For a perfect example of this playing out on the court just rewind to the 2009 Finals, when Kobe and Pau picked-and-rolled Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic to death down the stretch to win a pivotal Game 2 in that series.
The synergy constantly displayed by Kobe and Pau proves they were made for each other.