Kobe was right, there’s ‘no debate’ on Lakers removing Pau Gasol’s No. 16 – Orange County Register

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Pau Gasol was the Lakers litmus test.

Were you a real basketball fan or a fan of sunny days? Chess or checkers? Serious or simple?

Because much of the jaw-dropping conversation during Gasol’s six-and-a-half-season stint in Los Angeles went like this:

Fan 1: Pau is sweet! He doesn’t care to play defense! I don’t care if he averages 10 boards per game, the Lakers are a bad rebounding team!

Fan 2: I love Pau.

If you are Fan 1, know that other basketball fans were judging you. You might want to look the other way on March 7, when the Lakers retire Gasol’s No. 16 jersey — unless you came.

I hope you have.

Hopefully time and space have enhanced your view of what Gasol accomplished here, arriving in 2008 from Memphis in a stunning trade that immediately qualified the Lakers as contenders – and the following season, helped make them champions. And again, the season after.

In those 2009 and 2010 Lakers NBA titles, the 7-foot cerebral Spaniard started all 46 playoff games and averaged a double-double while playing 40 minutes per game.

He made three of his six career All-Star appearances as a Laker and recorded the eighth-most offensive rebound, ninth-most defensive rebounds, ninth-most blocked shots, 10th-most triple-doubles and the ninth-highest field goal percentage in franchise history. .

He averaged 17.7 points, 9.9 rebounds and 1.4 blocks in the purple and gold. And perhaps best of all, he forged an indelible bond with Kobe Bryant – who was very fond of him, describing Gasol as “one of the greatest post players of all time”.

If ever there was someone who qualified as a basketball authority…

But still, people liked to brandish the F-word – finesse – when they went after Gasol, who didn’t have the body to punch and didn’t need to. His exquisite skills allowed him to pass the guys – and get past the guys on his side.

He moved like a man who had chosen between becoming a doctor and a professional basketball player, almost scientific on offense in the way he would use gravity and trickery to create space for himself and Kobe to work.

With his intelligence, his heart, and enough of a “black swan”, he has earned the trust of the Black Mamba.

But, yes, there was a sweetness to Gasol. The good kind. Contagious.

A philanthropist who, in retirement from basketball, pledged to eradicate childhood obesity, Gasol also proved to be an inspiring friend.

“I’m more naturally inclined to show my softness on a personal level and on an emotional level, and I think that’s something that I may have influenced (Bryant) in some way,” said Gasol told ESPN in 2021. “I would say, ‘It’s OK to be normal or to act nice and vulnerable or sweet sometimes. We don’t have to be so tough all the time and be nervous all the time.

Shortly after Bryant’s death, Gasol and his wife booked a flight to California, where he stayed near Kobe’s widow, Vanessa, and the Bryant children – Gasol’s goddaughters. And when the Gasols’ first child was born, they named her Elisabet Gianna Gasol, a tribute to Gianna Bryant, who was among nine people who died in the January 2020 helicopter crash.

Now Gasol will be the 11th Laker player to have his number retired, added to a collection that includes both Bryant’s numbers 8 and 24 – as well as fellow former Lakers centers Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Shaquille O’ Neal.

A video resurfaced last week of Bryant, at an Oscars event in 2018, eager to see it happen.

“There is no debate,” says Bryant. “Pau, when he retires, he will have his number in the rafters next to mine. The reality is that I don’t win these championships without Pau. LA City doesn’t have those two championships without Pau Gasol. We know it, everyone knows it.

“And I’m really looking forward to the day he gives his speech on center court, in front of all the fans who have supported him over the years. So it’s going to be an awesome night.

The Lakers announced their intention to do so on Wednesday, the day of the scheduled exit, 13 minutes after news broke of LeBron James’ two-year, $97.1 million contract extension – a development that has overshadowed the team’s plans to honor one of the game’s most underrated sidekicks.

But maybe you’ve never been a big Gasol fan, so the ad wasn’t going to resonate anyway.

But I have a hunch that with a decade away, even some of those 11,000 fans who once liked a Facebook page titled “I hate Pau Gasol” have softened their stance on No. 16.

And if you haven’t, well, true LA basketball fans are still judging you – and enjoying Gasol.

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