Lakers unveil Gasol’s No. 16 in halftime ceremony
- Lakers and NBA reporter for ESPN.
- Covered the Lakers and NBA for ESPNLosAngeles.com from 2009-14, the Cavaliers from 2014-18 for ESPN.com and the NBA for NBA.com from 2005-09.
LOS ANGELES — Pau Gasol, the perfect complementary player to Kobe Bryant, was paid the best compliment possible by his former team: The Los Angeles 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 Lakers hosted the Memphis Grizzlies on Tuesday. “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 L.A. His younger brother Marc, who was part of the trade going the opposite direction from L.A. 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 Crypto.com Arena since her late husband’s memorial service.
“I miss him a lot,” Gasol said when asked about Bryant. “There’s nothing I can do about it but to love his family. That’s how I deal with it.”
The Lakers made it to three straight NBA Finals as soon 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. “And I’m like, ‘OK, I’m in.'”
They won two, and Gasol wore them both on 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 at Crypto.com Arena, 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, Metta Sandiford-Artest, Jordan Farmar, James Worthy and longtime trainer Gary Vitti. Miami Heat star Jimmy Butler, who played with Gasol with the Chicago Bulls, also came to the game.
Phil Jackson, who coached Gasol for four of the six seasons he played in L.A., also made a rare appearance at the arena, watching the game from a suite.
Jackson, Fisher, Sandiford-Artest and Sasha Vujacic also recorded video messages for Gasol that were shown on the jumbotron during a first-half timeout.
Gasol was the 12th player in franchise history to have his number honored, joining a longline of legendary big men from George Mikan to Wilt Chamberlain, Abdul-Jabbar to Shaquille O’Neal.
“I guess the common denominator is that I provided something valuable to the team to help the team win,” Gasol said. “I wouldn’t dare to compare myself with those great players. I have so much respect and honor. Part of the reason that I’m up there is that I helped the team significantly to win those championships. [If] we didn’t win those championships, we wouldn’t be sitting here.”
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