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NBA

Pau Gasol looks back at his career: Lakers, Celtics rivalry, Kobe Bryant...

NBA legend Pau Gasol sat down with AS to discuss his basketball career, the Lakers and former team-mate Kobe Bryant.

05/09/18 BALONCESTO PRESENTACION REFLEXIONES DE PAU GASOL JUGADOR DE LOS SAN ANTONIO SPURS DE LA NBA DE SU LIBRO BAJO EL ARO
CHEMA DIAZDiarioAS

The 7 March 2023 is a momentous day in the history of Spanish basketball. On Tuesday, the Los Angeles Lakers will retire Pau Gasol’s jersey at the Crypto.com Arena. Gasol joins Lakers legends Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor, and James Worthy, on the list of players who have had their jerseys retired.

Gasol (42) retired in 2021, and won two titles with the Lakers (2009, 2010), along with his close friend Kobe Bryant. They performed exceptionally under the orders of Phil Jackson, arguably the best coach in the history of the NBA. Gasol joined the Lakers in 2008 and left in 2014. But he never really left. The Lakers is his home, the place where grew to incredible heights. Ahead of the ceremony which will see his number 16 Lakers jersey go into retirement, he sat down with AS.

Ayuntamiento de Sant Boi de Llobregat
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Ayuntamiento de Sant Boi de LlobregatAlejandro GarciaEFE

I imagine you remember the exact moment when you were told, on 1 February 2008, that you had been traded from the Memphis Grizzlies to the Los Angeles Lakers.

Yes, I remember it very well. At that time, social media didn’t exist and my transfer was handled in a very discreet, private way. I was told by the Grizzlies’ general manager, who called me to his office. There, I was waiting outside for a while, until, I guess, all the details were finalised. Then he brought me into the office and said to me: ‘We have traded you to the Lakers’. He told me who I was traded for, including my brother Marc... he left that to the end, and he told me his name last. And then it was ‘good luck and thanks for everything’.

And what did your brother, Marc Gasol, whose rights went to the Grizzlies in that trade with the Lakers, tell you?

He was playing in Girona at the time. He wished me luck and was happy for me. We both understood that it was a very good opportunity for my career at the time, and in the end, it worked out very well. It gave Marc the opportunity to play in Memphis and be part of an important period in the history of the Grizzlies. He played there for more than ten years and achieved great things.

In the end, the trade wasn’t as unbalanced as it was made out to be?

We all came out winners, although at the time the transfer was criticised. It was said that the Lakers were benefiting again, having preferential treatment. In the end, the Grizzlies came out stronger and had a very good spell. They signed Zach Randolph, they got Marc... it worked out really well. That’s what you want out of a trade, a win-win for all parties.

Pau & Marc Gasol
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Pau & Marc GasolMIKE BROWNEFE

If you had been told back then, in February 2008, that fifteen years later your number 16 would be alongside the likes of Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Kobe Bryant... Would you have thought it was crazy?

Well, yes, because for that to happen, you had to have a very special set of circumstances. Winning championships, playing a number of years with the franchise, having a decisive role... a lot of things that ended up happening. But at that moment I had to focus on giving my all to help that team be the best it could be. And that’s what I tried to do: take advantage of the very special opportunity that was given to me. We gave it our all and we won two very special championships.

What is it like to go from a franchise like the Grizzlies and a city like Memphis to an institution like the Lakers and a place like Los Angeles?

In life, for things to work out a certain way, you have to have a series of circumstances. I was 27 for 28, reaching what would be the peak of my career in terms of maturity and fitness. And it seemed like I was the missing piece for the Lakers to be one of the best teams in the NBA. To become, in fact, the best a year and a half later. There was Kobe Bryant, who was one of the best players in the league, and there was Phil Jackson, the greatest coach in the history of basketball. It was a franchise like the Lakers and a city like Los Angeles... It’s a series of circumstances that makes everything come to fruition and get to the point that it did.

And how does it make you feel to realise that?

Grateful, because it’s nothing I had any control over in any way. I was traded to Los Angeles like I could have been traded to any other NBA team. But once that was a reality, I wanted to take advantage of it and give it my all to do the best I could in whatever role I had and to win a championship.

Kobe Bryant & Pau Gasol
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Kobe Bryant & Pau Gasol

And you won two.

Kobe had a lot to do with that because, from the moment I arrived, he told me ‘let’s go for the championship’. And of course, in Memphis, for one reason or another, I hadn’t had a team to think that we were going for the championship. It was ‘let’s see if we get into the playoffs, let’s see if we win a game, if we’re competitive and can grow as a team’. Those were the messages in Memphis. It was different, just like now the messages in Memphis are also different because it’s a different set of circumstances. It’s that, the right place at the right time... and special things happen.

I guess the highlight of your time with the Lakers was that Game 7 of the 2010 Finals against the Celtics? The biggest rivalry in the NBA, a rematch of the 2008 loss, a back-and-forth game

Yeah, of course, it would be difficult to mention another one. It’s the pinnacle of that period, the summit. A Game 7, at home, against the Celtics... and to win it after losing the 2008 Finals against them was epic. It was historic. One of those games that a lot of people remember where they were, where they watched it, what they were doing while they were watching it... a wonderful moment to experience.

And the worst was that lost final, also against the Celtics, in 2008?

You know what, I wouldn’t say that was the worst moment. It hurt us a lot, but it was key to winning the title in the following two years. For me, the worst times came after that. With the loss in 2011 against the Mavericks, the constant trade rumours... When for different reasons, mostly physical, Phil Jackson stopped coaching. When Kobe ruptured his Achilles tendon or when Lamar Odom, Derek Fisher, Andrew Bynum... players I was very fond of, who had wanted to win the titles we had won, left the team.

All that was worse?

It was more painful than that defeat in the final. Because, although it was also very painful, it helped us win in the next two years. If we had won in 2008, I don’t know what would have happened in 2009.

I imagine at the ceremony at Crypto.com Arena, Kobe Bryant is going to be very present for you.

Without a doubt, obviously. He’s going to be intimately involved, very present. For me, in addition to all those other great Lakers legends, to have my No. 16 join Kobe’s No. 8 and No. 24, it’s a sign that our bond is very strong. And to be able to share it with his family is going to be very special.

You said Phil Jackson was the greatest coach in NBA history. What did that mean for your career?

It was an honour to work with him. I connected with him very quickly. That profile, that way of being, more intellectual and spiritual, really connected with me. He introduced me to meditation, he encouraged me to read... he stimulated me intellectually and I liked that a lot. The timing I was talking about, the circumstances. It was a great union, a great communion.

Phil Jackson con los Lakers
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Phil Jackson kevork djansezian

Those Lakers teams, the ones that played in three straight Finals and won two titles between 2008 and 2010, what did they have, why were they a special team?

[They had] very good chemistry, the way we complemented each other. That’s what makes teams work and overcome everything else. Besides individual talent, it’s more important to play as a team. And the conviction to win, to go for it. That determination was key in those years for us. I don’t know if we were the most talented team if you looked player by player, but we had a great core and players who complemented the main players very well and did their jobs very well. They all played at 100% of their ability in the role they were playing. Phil Jackson was also very good at that, at getting the best out of each player and making sure that in a specific role, he was the best. And that gave us the chance to win.

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