March 7, 2023— His press conference was set to start at 4:30 pm PST, but at about ten past, Pau Gasol graciously walked through the tunnel of the Lakers arena. A walk he’s done a thousand times, a walk that will always be flooded with memories.
Everyone remembers where they were when the Lakers signed Pau because it was a moment that prompted a feeling that doesn't come around too often. It's a moment where you feel with complete conviction that everything is going to change. And it did. He lifted the Lakers, he lifted L.A., he lifted Lakers fans everywhere. And because of that, because of all Pau's done, his jersey's rising up into the rafters.
The 2x champion, 6x All-Star was wearing a navy-blue suit with a light purple undershirt, a dark purple tie, and of course, his two Lakers championship rings and his "Play Gigi's Way" bracelet. He walked with a look of concentration, but if his eyes caught another along his path, a subtle warm grin would appear.
When he arrived at the intersection of the walk-in tunnel and the players' tunnel, his first circle of media for the night swarmed around him. Still, he looked collected and prepared to answer any questions but was quickly ushered to his press room entrance where he took the stage. The room was the same room he celebrated his second championship with the Lakers in 2010.
“And tonight, the anticipation, the excitement, the honor received, it’s so big that it’s been really hard,” Pau said. “I have to keep reminding myself this is great. This is a celebration, this is lovely. It’s amazing that you can experience this in your life and have so many people around you that have followed you, join you and be next to you on your journey. So, it’s amazing guys, all I can say is thank you.”
The press conference was just about twenty minutes, Pau answered the first half of the questions in English and the second half in Spanish.
This perfectly encapsulates the kind of player Pau was, the kind of man he is. Pau is worldly. Pau is special. Like Kobe was a kid from Italy, Pau was a kid from Barcelona. And because he was the first international player on the Lakers to have his jersey retired, there was an influx of Spanish media in the arena tonight.
In attendance were 25 media members from Spain, representing 16 different countries. Movistar, Spain’s telecommunications provider, even broadcasted the Lakers vs. Memphis game live in Spain.
Before the start of the game, a pregame reception was held for Pau—in the same room they toasted Kobe the night of his jersey retirement. The pictures in the frames lining the hallway to the venue were replaced with photos of No. 16 and his teammates.
At just past 5:00 pm PST, the room was calm. Pau was standing there talking with his former Lakers teammate, Josh Powell. Spanish music was playing. Then, he removed himself from the crowd for about twenty minutes. And in an instant, the crowd doubled, then tripled.
The music shifted to Coldplay. Pau loves Coldplay.
Suddenly Pau was back in the room, standing by the door. There was barely any space to move around the room. The crowd didn’t stop growing and the circles that swarmed around him never stopped. The room was full of Lakers legends including Jamaal Wilkes, Byron Scott, Pau’s former Lakers teammates, Metta Sandiford-Artest, Derek Fisher, Sasha Vujacic, his teammates from FC Barcelona, including Juan Carlos Navarro, and all of his friends and family.
It was like a scene out of a wedding where Pau graced each table one after another and captured everyone’s attention even amidst the craziness that stirred in the room.
Pau’s wife, Cat, arrived with his oldest daughter on her hip. She found her dad instantly and started calling his name, waving at him until he saw her and his face lit up with a huge smile.
At 6:45 pm PST, everyone’s attention was directed to a stage in the back of the room. The Mayor of Los Angeles, Karen Bass, declared to all, “what a wonderful opportunity to celebrate one of our local heroes.”
After Pau was honored by the city of L.A., he sat center stage. Lakers legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, His former assistant coach, Jim Cleamons, and his former Lakers teammates, Dfish, Metta, Sasha, and Powell joined him onstage.
“You are a classic gentleman; you embody all the things I hope my two daughters find in husbands,” Cleamons said.
“Everybody knows you’re the student of the game, the student of life… a champion. Everybody knows he was the missing piece we needed to win those championships,” Sasha said.
“You always bring people together. That’s what you do, you give back. I’m just so happy to be your friend and your brother, thanks for having me here,” Metta said with a huge smile.
Pau was moved to tears.
“I was not ready for this,” he said collecting himself. “I just wanna say thank you to all of you. And I want my teammates, each and every one of you, to feel that a piece of that jersey going up there is for you, you elevated me.”
Everyone headed downstairs to see the Lakers face the Grizzlies, Pau’s first team in the NBA where he won Rookie of the Year and earned his first All-Star accolade.
Pau and his family stayed behind. About midway through the first quarter cheers began to grow, but nothing was happening on the floor. Then Pau appeared holding his daughter. When the crowd noticed, the Lakers arena gave their No.16 a standing ovation.
After the second quarter, the lights dimmed. Pau and his family took center court, another circle formed around him. A video from Vanessa Bryant appeared on the video board, she introduced Pau. ”Pablo, Kobe predicted it would be you and him in the rafters," Vanessa said. And then a video played of Kobe at the 2018 Oscars, “There’s no debate. When he retires, Pau will have his jersey in the rafters next to mine. The reality is, I don’t win those championships without Pau, the city of L.A. doesn’t have those two championships without Pau Gasol. We know that. Everybody knows that. And I really look forward to the day when he’s there giving his speech at center court in front of all the fans that have supported him over the years. It's going to be an awesome night,” the video played on the screen and ended on a frame of Kobe with his classic Kobe smirk.
It was kind of like time stood still after that. Everyone was holding on to what Kobe had said, because of what it meant, the truth, the accuracy, and because it was Kobe; it was good to see Kobe.
The crowd redirected their attention to the rafters, at the spot next to No. 8 and No. 24. As the black veil started to fall, Pau shook his head in disbelief, and tears started to fall.
“The newest lakers legend, No. 16, the great Pau Gasol,” LT announced to the crowd who were again on their feet.
The Lakers defeated the Grizzlies, 112-103. A win always lifts Los Angeles, but tonight, something else was doing the lifting as well, nostalgia—the pain from an old wound as they say. It’s more visceral than memory alone, it’s an ache. It’s swift, then it’s slow, fulfilling, and heartbreaking all at once. It’s life.
Pau kind of said it best:
“Life goes by pretty fast. 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 are realizing your dream and you’re becoming professional and then you’re trying to get better, and better, and prove yourself, and trying to keep growing. Then all of a sudden you have a chance to fulfill a bigger dream which was to play in the NBA. And you fulfill that dream. And you keep going, keep going, keep pushing yourself, now you have a chance to play for the greatest franchise in basketball and one of the best in sports, and Kobe welcomes you and says ‘let’s go, let’s go out there and win us a ring’ I’m in. Then you’re here, you get through three straight finals. It’s hard to take it all in. I think I've done as good as I could to embrace it and savor it, but tonight really exceeds any dream or expectation that I've had because it means so much, especially 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 —just truly an honor.”