Exclusive: Pau Gasol talks Kobe Bryant’s passing, relationship, and impact of Michael Jordan
The 10th anniversary of the Los Angeles Lakers winning back-to-back titles with Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol leading the way is right around the corner. The iconic franchise dominated the competition during a three-year span after the team acquired Gasol, and we have reached out to the members of the team to talk about what turned out to be a special time in Lakers history.
Unfortunately, Bryant’s passing in January has rocked the Lakers franchise as well as the NBA and the basketball world. We were unable to speak with Kobe before his passing but did talk with Gasol at length about his close friend and former teammate. The two-time NBA champion and Lakers legend opened up about his relationship with the Hall of Famer, starting with how he reacted to the tragic news.
“I froze. I was driving, and I was about to get home in Barcelona,” Gasol told ClutchPoints. “My wife was next to me, and she told me. I completely froze mentally and emotionally, I felt like I wanted to give up driving like my body, but I knew I had to make it to the house to find out what was going on.
“My first reaction was, ‘Please don’t say that. It’s not funny. I don’t know what type of sick joke this could be.’ But then, as I got home and we started seeing the news…and to see that it was actually potentially true, I still couldn’t believe it. I refused to believe it for days.
“You still would hope that he made it. If there was anyone that could survive that, it was him. But it was a horrible, horrible, and devastating time to go through this tremendous tragedy in so many levels, that to me it is still fresh and painful.”
You can hear snippets from Pau Gasol’s interview with ClutchPoints on the latest episode of the Battle for LA Podcast.
Gasol, who had the most successful run during his NBA career playing alongside Bryant, also talked about what the Lakers legend meant to him personally.
The two remained close even after Gasol’s left the team in the summer of 2014. Pau moved on to the Chicago Bulls signing with the team free agency, but the bond between these star players never wavered.
“To me, he was kind of the big brother that I never had,” Gasol said of Bryant. “A person that I could count on, that I could rely on. That I could reach out, and we could talk, and we would just enjoy it.
“Enjoy talking about life, talking about decisions, talking about personal stuff. How I would kind of teach their daughters the culture and the arts and stuff like that, and how he would help my kids.
“He couldn’t make boys, so it was on me to make boys. We would just talk about stuff. It was two very close people that appreciated each other being close and being human. That’s kind of what he meant to me.”
After spending the first few years of his career with the Memphis Grizzlies, and not seeing much success even though he was among the elite frontcourt players in the league, Gasol was traded to the Lakers in 2008 to team up with Kobe in Los Angeles.
This trade not only sent shockwaves throughout the NBA, but it forever changed Gasol’s life as he was able to take his game to the next level learning from Bryant.
“First, as a teammate, he made me a better player,” Gasol said of Bryant. “He brought the best out of me on the basketball court. He helped me grow as a player and a person, but then it was more like an older brother where I could reach out and have dinners when we would be in the same city. We would make time to make sure that we saw each other.”
Clearly, Kobe played a meaningful role in Gasol’s life both on and off the basketball floor. Unlike Shaquille O’Neal’s often rocky relationship with Bryant during their time playing together, Gasol and the Lakers icon were on the same page and, as a result, made three straight NBA Finals winning two titles as one of the league’s best one-two punches at the time.
Along with sharing some insight on his relationship with the enigmatic superstar, Gasol opened up about how Bryant would inspire him and their teammates during these championship runs.
“He was a constant inspiration and example for me and for our team,” Gasol said of the five-time NBA champion. “From being at the facility at five, six, or seven in the morning to get in that extra work and dedication. His commitment to winning and being the best was off the charts. How he pushed everyone at practice is something that MJ was known also to do during his time with the Bulls, how he pushed his teammates, and prepared them for the tougher battles. I think that was something remarkable. He never took a day off. Mentally, he always on edge, understanding what that meant and how that translated.
“I remember during the 2010 series how he texted me when we were in Boston. He said, ‘Hey Pau, come to my room. I want to show you a couple clips of how they’re playing us in the pick-and-roll.’
“Our communication was key. To be able to communicate with your teammates, especially with the ones that are potentially going to be out there with you during critical moments and situations and actions that you are going to run often, that takes leadership. That’s just smart [laughs], and I think he prided himself in being smart, being prepared, and doing what it took at every level.
“I’ve always remember he had his ice bucket in the room to take care of his feet and take care of his body. He did everything that he could to be the best and help us win. That was very inspiring.”
With the Michael Jordan documentary, The Last Dance, dominating the headlines every week, especially after Kobe’s recent appearance, Gasol shared his thoughts on the dynamic between his friend and arguably the greatest player ever to play the game of basketball.
The former Lakers forward knows Jordan played a major role in Bryant’s development as an elite basketball player in NBA. He also knows how much of a driving force Jordan was for Bryant during his playing days.
“Kobe was probably MJ’s best student,” Gasol said. “Nobody studied MJ like Kobe did. He wanted to be like MJ, and he wanted to be better than MJ, and he wanted to win more than MJ. That was a big driver for him.
“He understood that MJ was the best at the time and probably for most of us of all time. He wanted to learn from the best. In order to become the best, you have to learn from it. He was a great, great student. That’s why you see so much resemblance in both of their games.”
Gasol isn’t the only former teammate to share a similar sentiment about the comparisons to Jordan, and he likely won’t be the last. This generation is getting a glimpse of Jordan’s career and mentality and seeing the parallels for the first time during this documentary.
This is only the second part of the interview we did with Gasol with much more to come. The third installment will focus on the 10th anniversary of the back-to-back won by the Lakers, where the veteran forward shares his thoughts on the team, his teammates, and that time in his potential Hall-of-Fame career.
You can also read Part 1 of Pau Gasol’s exclusive interview with ClutchPoints here. Pau talked jersey retirement, the current Lakers squad, and more.