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Kobe Bryant-Pau Gasol relationship timeline: How Lakers stars formed bond that went beyond NBA championships

In May 2007, Kobe Bryant and the Lakers were not on great terms.

After Phoenix eliminated Los Angeles in the first round of the NBA Playoffs, Bryant publicly declared that he wanted to be traded. He was only interested in competing for championships, and he believed that the organization was launching a rebuild.

The Lakers did end up completing a huge deal in February 2008, but Bryant wasn’t part of it. Instead, they acquired Pau Gasol, who played an instrumental role in the team capturing back-to-back titles.

As Gasol once told Fox Sports’ Melissa Rohlin, building a relationship with Bryant was “not easy to do.” Through their experiences both on and off the court, though, they were able to forge an unbreakable bond.

Kobe Bryant-Pau Gasol relationship timeline

Crossing paths in 2007

Before Gasol joined the Lakers, he only knew Bryant as an opponent. Bryant had been busy winning rings alongside Shaquille O’Neal. Gasol and the Grizzlies were just trying to figure out how to advance past the first round.

As ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne detailed, the Bryant family saw Gasol while vacationing in Barcelona in the summer of 2007. Gasol, who was working out at Bryant’s hotel gym, recalled hearing the rumors about Bryant’s trade request.

“It’s crazy how that happened,” Gasol told Shelburne. “There were talks about him leaving the Lakers and potentially getting traded to Chicago. There were talks about me, too, because I wanted to be in a different situation than Memphis at the time, and the direction that the franchise was taking.

“So I said, ‘Well, maybe one day we’ll play together. You never know.’ In my mind, I couldn’t register the Grizzlies trading me to the Lakers. But then, a few months later, when I thought it just wouldn’t happen, it did. And I ended up with him and the Lakers in a perfect time where things just clicked and came together right away, and we had incredible times.”

The 2008 trade

Before the 2008 trade deadline, the Grizzlies sent Pau Gasol and a second-round pick to the Lakers in exchange for Kwame Brown, Javaris Crittenton, Marc Gasol, Aaron McKie and two first-round picks. The deal immediately threw Pau into the middle of a title race.

“I landed in Washington that first night to join the team, and after my physical [Bryant] came to my room to tell me, ‘Hey, I’m very excited to have you. Very happy that you’re here, but now let’s go win a championship,'” Gasol told Shelburne.

“I mean, it just doesn’t get more clear than that. He made sure I knew right away where he stood. There’s no confusion: ‘This is what I want. This is where I’m at, and this is where I will need you to be. Now, are you going to be on it? Are you going to be on board or are you not?'”

Coming up short in the 2008 NBA Finals

Bryant and Gasol reached the NBA Finals despite only playing together for a few months, but they ran into a superior Celtics team at the end of the Lakers’ playoff run.

A 39-point loss to their biggest rival in Game 6 only made the pain of defeat even worse, especially for Gasol, whom critics labeled as soft after he failed to match the physicality and intensity of Kevin Garnett.

Bryant and Lakers coach Phil Jackson pushed Gasol to take his game to the next level by combining his elite skills with brute force.

“When I was able to get to those points of aggressiveness, of physicality, of do-whatever-it-takes, I’m-going-to-go-through-you moments, and kind of put myself in that emotional state, that’s when I played my best,” Gasol told ESPN’s Dave McMenamin.

Back-to-back championships in 2009 and 2010

The work paid off, as the Lakers defeated the Magic in 2009 and Celtics in 2010 to win the 15th and 16th championships in franchise history.

Gasol was a different man in the rematch against Boston, totaling 19 points, 18 rebounds, four assists and two blocks in the deciding Game 7.

“I remember that day thinking I’m going to do whatever,” Gasol told McMenamin. “We’re not going to allow this team to beat us on our home court in Game 7. We’re going to win this championship. I don’t care how it is. I don’t care what I have to do. It’s kind of like that survival instinct of kill or get killed.

“And I was able to put myself into that killing mode of I’m just going to bite your head off, and I don’t care who you are, I don’t care anything. That’s how Kobe was on a gamely basis.”

Pau Gasol leaves the Lakers in 2014

After spending six-plus seasons in Los Angeles, Gasol signed with Chicago during the 2014 free agency period. The Lakers and Bulls reportedly discussed a sign-and-trade deal at the time, but they were unable to finalize an agreement.

In a 2023 interview with Spectrum SportsNet’s Chris McGee, Gasol said that he would “forever be thankful” for everyone involved in the trade that allowed him to spend his prime years in Los Angeles. He also reflected on his connection with Bryant.

“We just complemented each other well,” Gasol said. “He brought a unique edge, work ethic and dedication to the game. He appreciated my IQ, my understanding of the game, my ability to catch the ball, having good hands and being able to make plays for myself and my teammates.

“I think I kind of balanced what he brought to the table. I didn’t come here to get into any kind of battle with him. I just wanted to help the team win championships.”

Kobe Bryant’s death in 2020

Bryant and Gasol maintained a strong relationship after Bryant retired in 2016. As’s Shaun Powell wrote, the duo would share “stories over vino about hoops, business, and also family.” They pledged to watch over each other’s children.

Then, on Jan. 26, 2020, tragedy struck. Kobe, his daughter, Gianna, and eight others died in a helicopter crash on the way to a game at Kobe’s Sports Academy.

Gasol was left heartbroken, but he knew that he had to support Bryant’s wife, Vanessa, and his three daughters, Natalia, Bianka and Capri.

“We just booked a flight [to California],” Gasol told Shelburne. “We decided we needed to be there and we left. We didn’t know if we were leaving for a week, two weeks or a month, but we needed to be there.

“We wanted to be close to Vanessa and the kids and be there, as Uncle Pau, for whatever they needed.”

The birth of Pau Gasol’s daughter in 2020

In September of 2020, Gasol and his wife, Cat, welcomed a baby girl into the world. They named her Elisabet Gianna Gasol, choosing the middle name in honor of Bryant’s daughter.

“It’s just a way to honor Gianna, how much she means to us and our family, my wife and I,” Gasol told Powell. “Gigi was meant to be a superstar. She was a mini-Kobe. She was going to rock this world.

“The way she was taken from us, so young, so abruptly, broke a lot of people’s hearts. To me she will always be a presence to my daughter.”

Pau Gasol’s jersey retirement ceremony in 2023

Gasol’s No. 16 jersey was placed next to Bryant’s No. 24 jersey in March 2023. During the halftime tribute, the Lakers played a 2018 video of Bryant explaining why Gasol deserved the honor.

“There’s no debate,” Bryant said in the video. “Pau, when he retires, he will have his number in the rafters next to mine. The reality is, I don’t win those championships without Pau. The city of LA doesn’t have those two championships without Pau Gasol. We know that. Everybody knows that.

“And I really look forward to the day when he’s there giving his speech at center court in front of all the fans who have supported him over the years. So, it’s going to be an awesome night.”

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