“He is the most genuinely kind athlete I have met in my entire career. A great person, really. Everyone here in Los Angeles knows how many things he did off the track, but it’s not just that: it’s also remembered how he spoke to people, to everyone. To the one he worked in the parking lot, to those who were at the ticket booths… to everyone. He was an amazing guy. He didn’t put on superstar airs, he made sure everyone felt important. And a player of his stature did not have to always have been like this. But it is that he was So”. On the day he turned 43, the journalist Arash Markazi spoke to As about Pau Gasol, on the brink of the Lakers retiring the number 16 from the Spaniard: “The owner, Jeanie Buss, was clear that it had to be done, she did not have a single doubt”.
Markazi later went through Los Angeles Times but I worked in LA for ESPN when Pau and Kobe Bryant played three Finals in a row and won two rings (2009 and 2010): “I remember the transfer. It’s just that no one saw it coming, it came out of nowhere. When there is an operation like this in the NBA, it is intuited. There are rumors, movements… this time, nothing. He snapped. And Pau arrived and we saw how they went from being a good team and little else, without great expectations, to an NBA champion. We live the process: from a good team to a playoff team to a team that contends for the title… and finally, champion”.
In fact, Markazi bets that the title could have already come in 2008 “if they had less physical problems and injuries.” But he knows how important the ones in 2009 were and, above all, the one in 2010 against the Celtics: “Pau grew a lot, to a large extent thanks to Kobe and after that loss in 2008 and the jokes they made in Boston about him not being tough enough and all that. That’s why they really wanted to play the Celtics again, they really wanted to. And that’s why I have recorded the image of Pau screaming as if possessed after an action under the hoop. It’s that that’s when I thought ‘he just became a Lakers legend‘. There she was, with all her hair mussed up and screaming like that because that moment was what he had wanted most in the world. He was the calmest and nicest guy you could face, but there… as Kobe said, he had to transform, go from a soft swan to a black swan ”.
Those titles totally changed the narrative around the team and Kobe Bryant, who was finally able to win without Shaquille O’Neal at his side. All those who covered the information on the Lakers then know to what extent that was important for Kobe: “Before Pau arrived, it was public that he wanted to leave, he had asked for the transfer, they had whistled him in games in Los Angeles, which is something that only happened then… I was terribly frustrated. But I think that as soon as Pau arrived, Kobe knew he was the perfect partner. There was a very quick connection, they really appreciated each other from the beginning. Pau also liked that Kobe demanded so much of him, I think he felt that he was someone who knew how hard it was to win. And, at the same time, Pau’s character allowed Kobe to discover what kind of leader he could be, what kind of captain he could become”.
For this reason, Markazi does not want what Pau and Kobe did together to be underestimated: “They are one of the best couples in Lakers history. It is that Pau, just as he arrived and at the moment in which he passed, it was a godsend for Kobe and the Lakers. A godsend. Look, I know a lot of people don’t say this, but they won two rings and Kobe and Shaquille just one more, three. And although it is often said that shaq and Kobe could have done This or thatI think they earned what they could, there was no reason for more in their relationship. shaq he wanted to leave, he stopped taking care of his physical form… After that, Kobe wanted to win without him, and he did that with Pau. I remember in 2009, in Orlando and after the sixth game. He was still in the clothes he had played with, back at the hotel already and drenched in champagne. He was like this, with Vanessa and the girls and he didn’t want to change. That moment was that important, and I would not have reached it without Pau”.
That is why he is sure, and it seems impossible to see it any other way, that Kobe will be very present at Pau Gasol’s ceremony, the number 16’s retirement: “When a team wins a title, it is like a blood transfusion among those who get it. There is a forever connection between them, a bond. Kobe knew that they were going to remove Pau’s shirt, he said that he would be next to his, that this way they would stay together forever. They were like brothers, and now he has such a close relationship with his family… it breaks your heart to think that Kobe won’t be there, but at the same time he is very beautiful. We are going to remember him a lot through Pau”. And he is also clear, finally, that it is absolutely fair that no one else is going to wear the 16 in the Lakers: “Look, Pau always said that he had inspired him a lot dream team of Barcelona 92. But it is that later he did the same with his way of playing and his way of being: he inspired many players. It is one of the biggest”.