Pau Gasol credits Kobe Bryant ahead of Lakers jersey retirement: ‘My number goes up there because of him’
Pau Gasol will have his No. 16 jersey retired by the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday, and absent from the proceedings will be the player who helped make the ceremony possible. Gasol won two championships next to Kobe Bryant in a Lakers uniform, but Bryant’s death in a 2020 helicopter accident means that he will not be by Gasol’s side as his number is raised into the rafters of the arena they once called home.
Bryant’s absence still looms over the franchise to this day, and it’s something Gasol will be thinking about as his former team honors its longtime legend. “It’s impossible [to separate],” Gasol said according to ESPN’s Dave McMenamin. “It’s inevitable. I don’t know how. … My number goes up there, in big reason, because of him.
“And also how he made me better, how he made us better, how he led us in those runs and the effect that he had. And then obviously not having him here with us, it’s tough.”
Gasol has remained close with the Bryant family since he and Kobe played together, and at February’s All-Star Game, he was given the Kobe and Gigi Bryant WNBA Advocacy Award by Vanessa Bryant herself. When his jersey is retired on Tuesday, it will hang next to Bryant’s No. 8 and 24 jerseys in the rafters. Gasol is still processing what it means to have his number recognized in Lakers history.
“Just trying to little by little take it in and just digest and comprehend that my number, my jersey will be up there with those great amazing players and names in the history of our game,” Gasol told ESPN. “And obviously being next to Kobe, seeing his name, still emotional.”
Bryant may not be in the building physically, but his presence will be felt by everyone in attendance. The Bryant-Gasol partnership was one of the NBA‘s best for over six years, and yielded championships No. 15 and 16 for Los Angeles. Gasol’s jersey may be the one getting retired on Tuesday, but it’s almost as much as an honor for the teammate that helped get it there.