When Pau Gasol arrived in Washington D.C. to join the Lakers, it was already after midnight.
He’d just been traded from the Grizzlies to Los Angeles on Feb. 1 — a trade that “changed my life and my career,” he said Saturday at the Basketball Hall of Fame Enshrinement Ceremony — and the team had a game against the Wizards at noon Feb. 3, but Kobe Bryant, Gasol’s new teammate, insisted on meeting the center.
“He was texting me, saying, ‘Hey, I want to come by your room, and I want to welcome you, want to say hello, want to welcome you to the team?” Gasol recalled. “I said, ‘It’s going to be late. It’s gonna be like past 1 a.m. You sure you don’t want to wait for tomorrow?’”
Bryant insisted, and when Gasol arrived the Lakers’ star welcomed him, said he’s happy about the trade and informed Gasol that their goal was to win a title together.
Gasol responded by saying: “I’m in” before they departed.
“That was it,” Gasol said. “No crap. Straight to the chase.”
That formed the foundation of their relationship that included a pair of championships the next two seasons, and their bond was evident at Gasol’s Hall of Fame ceremony Saturday night when he mentioned Bryant — who died, along with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and six others, in a helicopter crash in January 2020 — and shared the anecdote from their overlap with the Lakers.
“I know some people in the league were upset about the trade, but it happened, right, and that’s where I got to know the person who elevated my game like no other,” Gasol said. “Who taught me what it took to win at the highest level. Who showed me how hard you had to work and the mentality you needed to have in order to be the best. The commitment you had to make. What it meant, and what it took, to be a leader.”
In addition to the two titles, Gasol made three All-Star Game appearances during the six-plus years with Bryant, which ended when Gasol signed with the Bulls ahead of the 2014-15 season.
Gasol averaged 17.7 points and 9.9 rebounds per game across those seasons with the Lakers.
Bryant spent his entire career — which continued after Gasol’s departure until his retirement following the 2014-15 campaign — with the organization.
Earlier this year, when the Lakers retired Gasol’s jersey in March, the 7-foot center, who said in his Hall of Fame speech that he expected to play small forward until he kept growing and growing, became emotional when his jersey was retired next to Bryant’s in the rafters.
And Saturday night, when Gasol joined Bryant in another realm of basketball history, Bryant’s wife, Vanessa, was in attendance too.
“I wouldn’t be here without you, brother,” Gasol said Saturday, as his eyes glanced up. “I wish more than anything that you and [Gianna] were here today with us. I miss you and love you. Thank you.
“Thank you, Vanessa, for being here tonight.”