Pau Gasol sheds a tear as the Lakers retire his No. 16 jersey, joining Kobe Bryant in the

Former NBA player Pau Gasol was reunited with his former teammate and friend Kobe Bryant in spirit Tuesday night as the Lakers retired his jersey alongside the legend’s. 

Gasol and Bryant did it all together, and their numbers now hang side by side in the Lakers’ arena, as the former center for the Purple & Gold shed a tear in front of fans, his family, and brother Marc – an NBA champion with the Toronto Raptors.

The Lakers retired Gasol’s No. 16 jersey on Tuesday night, honoring the genteel big man who spent the best seasons of his 18-year NBA career with Bryant in LA. The Lakers reached three straight NBA Finals following Gasol’s arrival in February 2008, winning championships in 2009 and 2010. 

The Lakers pulled down the curtain to reveal Gasol’s No. 16 hanging next to Bryant’s at the Arena and the 42-year-old, wearing a championship ring on each hand, was visibly emotional as he wiped away a tear. 

The occasion was made even more heart-warming by the presence of Vanessa Bryant, Kobe’s wife. 

Former NBA player Pau Gasol’s No. 16 jersey was retired Tuesday and joined Kobe Bryant’s

The former Lakers star could not hold back the tears as the team unveiled his jersey at halftime

The occasion was made even more heart-warming by the presence of Vanessa Bryant (center_

Gasol, 42, was a close friend of Kobe’s and has stood by Vanessa, 40, and her daughters – Natalia, 20, Bianka, 6, and Capri, 3 – since Kobe and Gianna died in a helicopter crash along with seven others on January 26, 2020. 

The celebration marked the first time Vanessa had returned to the Arena since Kobe’s memorial as she honored her late husband’s close friend. 

A host of Gasol’s former teammates were also in attendance, including Derek Fisher, Sasha Vujacic, LaMar Odom, and Metta World Peace. 

Every fan in attendance received a free No. 16 jersey, with them draped over the seats in the arena before the game.  

‘I think I’ve done as good as I could to really embrace it and savor it, but tonight really exceeds any dream or expectation that I’ve had,’ Gasol said before the game while wearing one championship ring on each hand. 

‘It means so much, and obviously 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.’

Gasol’s versatile game complemented Bryant’s scoring prowess perfectly when Gasol decided to be a supporting player to a fellow superstar, and the two also formed a deep off-court friendship that endured to Bryant’s death in 2020.

‘My number goes up there, in big reason, because of him,’ Gasol told ESPN. 

Vanessa delivered a pre-recorded speech that was played to introduce Gasol, recognizing her husband’s close friendship with his former teammate. 

He was honored in front of fans, team owner, his family, and brother Marc – an NBA champion

Vanessa delivered a pre-recorded speech that was played on the big screen to introduce Gasol

‘It is my honor to introduce my dear friend Pau tonight,’ she began. ‘Pau was special to Kobe as a teammate, as a man and as a friend. 

‘Pablo, Kobe predicted that you and he would be together in the rafters. Here’s a little video I want you to watch.’

She then blew a kiss to the camera as the clip cut to a 2018 interview of Bryant insisting that Pau would have his jersey hanging alongside the Black Mamba’s. 

When Gasol joined the Los Angeles Lakers just over 15 years ago, the Spanish seven-footer banished his ego, redoubled his work ethic and immediately turned a struggling team into contenders who eventually became champions. 

The 17-time NBA champion franchise typically only retires the numbers of players in the Hall of Fame, and Gasol is a first-time finalist for the honor this year with a strong chance of making the cut. 

Gasol made three of his six career All-Star teams during his time with L.A. while averaging 17.7 points and 9.9 rebounds per game. 

‘The excitement, the anticipation, the honor received, it’s just so big that it’s been hard to really take it in,’ Gasol said. ‘I have to keep reminding myself that it’s a celebration. It’s great. It’s lovely. It’s just great that you can experience this in your life.’ 

The 42-year-old Gasol said he struggled to sleep over the past few days while he thought about the enormity of the Lakers’ gesture amid the still-strong memories of his years on the West Coast. 

The team scheduled the ceremony for halftime of the Lakers’ game against the Memphis Grizzlies. 

The 42-year-old spent the best seasons of his 18-year NBA career with Kobe Bryant (R) in LA

Replicas of his No. 16 jersey were draped across the seats at the Arena 

Each fan who attended the gam received a free jersey with many choosing to wear it

Gasol chose Tuesday night for his Lakers jersey retirement for a very good reason: He played his first seven NBA seasons with the Grizzlies, his first team after he moved stateside in 2001. 

Memphis traded Gasol to the Lakers in February 2008, and the deal transformed both franchises. 

While Gasol and Bryant immediately formed a dominant partnership, Memphis got a package that included Gasol’s younger brother, Marc, who went on to have 11 largely excellent seasons with the Grizz’.

Gasol was only the second Spanish player in NBA history, and he believes his long, successful career contributed to erasing the stereotype of the ‘soft’ European player. 

Gasol noted that three Europeans now are arguably the top three players in the league: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Nikola Jokic and Luka Doncic.

‘I’m proud to see that,’ Gasol said. ‘That inspires not only European kids, but players across the world. Give yourself a chance if you really want it. It’s been great to see the game grow globally.’

Gasol’s jersey represents the 13th number retired by the Lakers honoring 12 players. Bryant’s early-career No. 8 and late-career No. 24 are both retired. 

Jimmy Butler made sure to pull up to Arena to honor his former Chicago Bulls teammate.

‘I’m here because of Pau, obviously! Congrats to my brother Pau. I love you man. Much deserved, Hall-of-Fame coming soon,’ Butler said.

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