The Gods of basketball grew more skilled, smart and Spanish on Saturday evening in Springfield, Mass., when they welcomed Pau Gasol into the Naismith Hall of Fame.
“What a night, what a moment,” began the soft-spoken seven-footer that partnered with Kobe Bryant to lead the Lakers to back-to-back NBA titles in 2009 and 2010. “Wow. I stand before you with immense pride and gratitude as I humbly accept this huge honor of being inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. This moment is a testament to the support, guidance and inspiration I have received from so many throughout my basketball journey.”
Ever a classy individual, Gasol started by thanking those that helped make him who he’s become.
“So many people have contributed to me being here, but no one like my family,” he said. “My dear parents, who introduced me to the game of basketball; they both played at an amateur level, but they played. Thank you so much for all your teachings, for your support, for your love; never missing a game, never missing a practice, taking me to practices after your work. You’ve inspired me; your commitment, your effort, your sacrifices have fueled me and motivated me. Thank you mom and dad, I love you so very much.”
Gasol went on to thank all of the players and coaches that came before him for paving the way and building “this amazing league,” taking note to name the European players like his presenter, Toni Kukoc, that inspired him as a kid.
And yet, perhaps his greatest inspiration came from Americans like Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson and the 1992 Dream team, who won Olympic gold in Pau’s native Barcelona when he was 12 years old.
“I started playing basketball when I was a kid, when I was seven years old, just having fun with friends at school with my classmates … but then 1992 happened,” he explained. “I was 12, it changed my life. The Dream Team showed us how basketball could be played; it made me dream of playing at that level, playing with the best of the best. And that launched, really, an incredible growth in the sport internationally. And the 2023 class* is a true testament of that. So, thank you to the Dream Team of 1992, and to those European teams that competed against them … you know, didn’t do so well, but, you know, it is what it is, they were pretty good.”
*German Dirk Nowitzki and Frenchman Tony Parker joined Gasol in the Class of 2023.
Gasol noted his pride for his years in Memphis, setting a foundation for a successful franchise, but focused on his glory years as a Laker, which began with a phone call from the Memphis GM on Feb. 1, 2008.
“Chris Wallace calls me into his office and gives me the news that I was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers … that obviously changed my life and my career,” said Pau. “I know some people in the league were upset about the trade, but it happened. And that’s where I got to know the person that elevated my game like no other; who taught me what it took to win at the highest level. Who showed me how hard you have to work, and the mentality that you needed to have in order to be the best. The commitment you have to make. What it meant, and what it took to be a leader. Kobe.”
Late into the night that Gasol joined the Lakers, prior to a game against Washington set for noon the next day, Kobe all but insisted to come to Pau’s room well after midnight, needing to see the Spaniard when he arrived to the hotel.
“He wanted to make sure that right away, first hand, I got the message: ‘Welcome to the team, I’m happy you’re here, now let’s go win a championship together’,” Gasol recalled. “So I said, ‘OK, all right, I’m in, man.’ That was it. No crap. Straight to the chase.”
Gasol debuted in Purple and Gold a few days later against New Jersey, scoring 24 points on 10 of 15 shooting with 12 boards and four assists. The Lakers would go on to win the Western Conference that year, and the subsequent two seasons, which was no coincidence with the Gasol acquisition.
Of course, it was very difficult for Gasol to have his Hall of Fame enshrinement moment without Kobe, whom he and the world lost on January 26, 2020.
“I wouldn’t be here without you brother,” Gasol said through teary eyes. “I wish more than anything that you and Gigi were here with us. I miss you and love you. Thank you Vanessa for being here tonight. I’m proud to be your brother. And an Uncle to your wonderful girls. I love you guys so very much.”
To his Lakers teammates, after naming nearly all of them, including Lamar Odom, Derek Fisher and more, Gasol then added: “I’m so grateful to all of you. I hope that you take this honor that I’m receiving today as part of your own. Without you, I couldn’t have done it.”
Gasol ended his NBA career with six All-Star appearances and made the All-NBA team three times in his 17 seasons (Second Team in 2011; Third Team in 2009 and 2010), with career averages of 17.0 points (50.7 percent field goals), 9.2 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.6 blocks and 0.5 steals in 33.4 minutes per game. The Lakers retired Gasol’s No. 16 in March, just to the right of Kobe’s No. 24.
“Of course you cannot understand my career and me as a player without my national team, La Familia … for me, representing my country was a big deal, such a privilege,” Pau said.
To conclude his speech, Gasol offered a message from which we can all benefit:
“To whom much is given, much is required. I truly believe it. Those values, the pursuit of excellence, the drive to succeed, the love of family, the recognition to give back, the power of empathy: instilled by my parents, both working in healthcare, honed by Kobe, always wanting to be extraordinary and epic; and encouraged and supported by my beautiful wife and family. They’re the reason I’m committed to working to make a bigger difference in our world. And I want to encourage you all to continue to find ways to join efforts, to team up, so our impact can be much larger. We have a unique opportunity to do so. Thank you all very much. Muchas gracias.”