Thursday, March 30, 2023

Pau Gasol achieves eternal glory with the Lakers

In the mecca of Hollywood, where fame is often an ephemeral and capricious illusion, rebelling against oblivion and standing the test of time distinguishes the stars that fade overnight from those who truly achieve eternity. Pau Gasol does not have -yet- a star on the Walk of Fame, but the legend of Spanish basketball is from this Tuesday an immortal myth of the Los Angeles Lakers, who withdrew his shirt and his number 16 as a tribute to the double NBA champion with those in purple and gold. “To the city of Los Angeles, to ‘Laker Nation’: I love you dearly, I love you forever. Thank you for making me feel so special,” he said. a very emotional Gasol, who could not avoid tears at various times of the night.

The most glamorous dynasty in the NBA -and one of the most successful along with the Boston Celtics- stood up to honor a Gasol who formed a memorable alliance, on and off the track, with Kobe Bryant in the 2009 rings and 2010. Starting today, everyone who looks at the roof of the Arena (the new name of the Staples Center) You will see Gasol’s 16 along with his ‘brother’ Kobe’s 8 and 24 and alongside other Lakers heroes such as ‘Magic’ Johnson (32), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (33), Shaquille O’Neal (34) or Jerry West (44).

Pau Gasol’s jersey, retired by the Lakers. Phillip Kim

To understand the magnitude of this feat, it is enough to see that the Lakers have only retired the numbers of 12 players -including Pau’s- and that the Spaniard is the first non-American to achieve it.

A dream come true and the memory of Kobe

In a black suit and wearing his two champion rings on his fingers, Gasol captured the eyes of all the fans from his entrance to the pavilion between the first and second quarters of the game between the Lakers and the Memphis Grizzlies (the other great team of the power forward during his extraordinary career in the NBA). With his daughter in his arms, Gasol thanked, unable to avoid tears, the huge standing ovation in which each fan had received a shirt with the Catalan’s name and number. The applause was repeated on several occasions with the recognition videos for Gasol (above all a very special one from coach Phil Jackson).

But the tribute as such took place at halftime. The act began with a video of Vanessa Bryant, widow of Kobe Bryant and who introduced Gasol praising his human quality “as a partner, as a man and as a friend.” Next, the stadium screens showed a 2018 interview by Bryant, with the EFE correspondent in Los Angeles Antonio Martín, in which the guard flatly demanded that Gasol’s number be removed by the Lakers. “There is no debate. When he retires, he’ll have his number on top of the flag. The reality is that we would not have won those two titles without him. We know it, we all know it,” Kobe said then.

Pau Gasol with his two NBA champion rings. Phillip Kim

Once the shirt was unveiled at the top of the stadium, Gasol, “overwhelmed” by the tribute and totally moved, thanked everyone present but also remembered “the person and the face” that unfortunately he did not see in the stadium . “I really miss you so much,” he said between chants of “Kobe, Kobe” in the arena. Gasol said that “not in a million years” could he imagine such an evening and recalled Kobe’s “Mamba mentality”: “Be the best you can be.”

The six-time All-Star also remembered that legendary seventh game against the Celtics in the 2010 Finals. “It seems like yesterday (…). What a night, he will never forget it and I don’t think you will either,” he said.

Gasol thanked his family, friends and teammates (“you deserve a piece of this shirt,” he said) and assured that he will continue his career off the pitch, with the Gasol Foundation, “making this world a healthier place.”

very special guests

In addition to his impressive talent and fierce competitive spirit, the Lakers hold a very special place for Gasol for his kindness, grace, humility and charitable work. At this culminating moment in his career, the man from Sant Boi was accompanied by his wife and children, by his parents and siblings -including Marc Gasol-, and by unforgettable companions of the ‘golden juniors’ such as Juan Carlos Navarro, Felipe Reyes or Juan Carlos Calderón. But companions from his years of wine and roses in the Lakers were also present, such as Derek Fisher either Metta Sandiford-Artest and franchise references such as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Who could not be was LeBron James, who is recovering from injury.

Apart from the stars, he highlighted above all the affection and recognition of a practically full Arena to pay tribute to a Gasol whose name and number will remain forever in the heaven of the Lakers and the Olympus of the NBA.


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