Second in a series about the 2009-10 Lakers, the last Lakers team to win an NBA title.
Former Lakers standout Pau Gasol took April 5 off from training for one more run at playing in the NBA and for his home country of Spain in the Olympics.
Gasol had been rehabilitating a left foot injury that cut short his time with the Portland Trail Blazers last season, but on this Sunday he decided to watch Game 7 of the NBA Finals between the Lakers and the Boston Celtics.
It was the first time Gasol had watched the entire game since the Lakers won the NBA championship in 2010, and he was in constant torture from the twists and turns in the game. Gasol said he became “emotional” while watching Kobe Bryant, his friend and former teammate who died in a helicopter crash with eight others in January.
The 39-year-old Gasol had been preparing to play in his fifth Olympics by doing vigorous workouts at his in-laws’ home in the Bay Area after he was released by the Trail Blazers.
But as the coronavirus pandemic spread around the world, the 2020 Tokyo Olympics were postponed. Gasol, though, decided to keep pushing his body because he wants to compete in the Olympics, which are now set for July 23, 2021.
In Gasol’s eyes, the best way to hone his skills for the Summer Games would be to play next season, his 20th in the NBA.
“My plan initially was to get healthy, heal and be able to play in the Olympics,” Gasol said. “But the Olympics has officially been pushed to July 23, 2021. Now see what happens with professional sports, professional basketball in my case, and when things kind of resume. … Then if I can get healthy, we’ll see what’s next and we’ll see what that next looks like.”
Gasol had been a force for the Lakers during the Finals against the Celtics.
He was second on the team in scoring (18.6) and assists (3.7), and first in rebounds (11.6) and blocked shots (2.6). He shot 47.8% from the field against the stingy Celtics defense.
As he watched Game 7, Gasol said he was in agony throughout the broadcast.
“It was the first time I had watched Game 7 in 10 years and I felt like I was playing the game,” he said. “I felt like I was in it, like I was there and I was suffering with every missed shot or ‘Oh — we’re down.’ Even though I know the outcome of the game and it has been 10 years.
“Everyone really did a magnificent job. The fans, they pushed us through that game and they helped us win that championship. It was so much into that.”
Gasol took a deep breath before he continued to talk about that night.
He mentioned how Bryant and his daughter Gianna were there on the stage celebrating the franchise’s 16th and last championship, recalled that Lakers owner Jerry Buss, NBA commissioner David Stern, Lakers assistant coach Frank Hamblen and ESPN’s Stuart Scott were all there. All of them now dead.
“I got emotional too, especially towards the end and hearing Kobe speak when he got the MVP trophy and how he acknowledged me,” Gasol recalled. “With him being gone, I got really emotional. It just really meant a lot to me. It’s one of those things with time that you learn to appreciate things and value things more, what you have gone through, what you have achieved, people you have had in your life, people you have shared special things with.”
The addition of Gasol on Feb. 1, 2008, is what put the Lakers over the top and allowed them to play in three consecutive NBA Finals.
Gasol was acquired from the Memphis Grizzlies for Kwame Brown, Javaris Crittenton, Aaron McKie, the draft rights to Marc Gasol, Pau’s younger brother, two first-round draft picks and other considerations.
When Pau joined the Lakers on a trip, Bryant wasted little time embracing him.
“It was close to like 1 a.m. or something and the team was playing at noon that next day in Washington,” Gasol said. “He wanted to see me right away and he came to my room and said, ‘Man, I’m so excited you’re here. Now let’s go win a championship.’ So right off the bat he’s telling me this is where it is. This is what it’s going to be. And he hooked me. He hooked me from that point.
“Obviously I wanted to win. But with that type of determination, clarity, directness, he was like, ‘We got to be on the same page as I am.’ So I was like, ‘I’m in. I’m in. I’ll do whatever it takes because this is what I want too.’ But he showed me the way, just like everybody else on that team. He understood everybody had to do their job and their part in order for us to win.”