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Pau Gasol credits Kobe Bryant for his Hall of Fame nomination

Lakers forward Pau Gasol and guard Kobe Bryant exchange a high-five.
Pau Gasol joined forces with Kobe Bryant to usher in a new era of championships with the Lakers.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)
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Pau Gasol comfortably strode to the stage, tall and confident, a slim-fit suit and leather loafers worthy of the occasion.

Friday in his first action of All-Star weekend, Gasol was named a Hall of Fame finalist — a step that’s almost certainly a formality for the six-time All-Star before he’s formally announced as an inductee in April at the NCAA Final Four.

He’s a part of a loaded class of potential honorees that include plenty of Gasol’s on-court rivals — Dirk Nowitzki, Dwyane Wade, Tony Parker and San Antonio Gregg Popovich. WNBA legends Becky Hammon and Jennifer Azzi are also among the 12 players and coaches up for induction.

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Obviously, he’d stop to reflect on all he’s accomplished in this game, accomplishments that have had an unquestioned global impact.

“No. It’s been such a busy day,” Gasol said.

He was a panelist at the NBA’s tech summit, grabbed a couple sandwich wraps, got the Hall of Fame news and went right to work as a coach in the league’s Rising Stars game — which his team won.

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“Undefeated,” he said. “I’m leaving on top, hanging them up.”

Gasol’s career is about to enter a phase of celebration and appreciation — the Lakers retiring his No. 16 on March 7.

“When you love what you do …” he said Friday in a brief moment of reflection as part of the announcement show.

And Gasol played with that attitude — a passion and intensity that helped dispel stereotypes about European players who were so commonly labeled as “soft.”

Gasol’s game was built more on skill than shrill — a player who could shoot, pass and make the right decision much more comfortably than one who could simply bully his way on the court.

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Now, that love is about to get thrown back.

There’s also the legacy of kindness, thoughtfulness, class and grace — Gasol going through his late teammate Kobe Bryant’s Hall of Fame induction side-by-side with Bryant’s family.

His eventual induction will undoubtedly be a celebration of Bryant as well because of their partnership.

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Any good in-season deal the Lakers make will always be compared to their acquisition of Gasol — the team sending Kwame Brown, Javaris Crittenton, Aaron McKie and the rights to some other Gasol for a rebirth of Bryant-led Lakers’ dynasty.

“You can’t stop it. You can’t guard it,” Bryant once said of the two-man game with Gasol. “You just hope we miss. There’s really no reasonable way you can defend that.”

Friday night, Gasol talked about sharing a place with Bryant — eventually in the Hall of Fame but first in the Lakers’ rafters next to Nos. 8 and 24.

“Every step of the way, he’s on my mind, in my heart along with Gigi. And he’s going to be there forever. I grew as a player, I played at a higher level thanks to him in great part. Obviously, Phil [Jackson], the rest of the teammates, the rest of the staff and I had to put something in for my part, but his leadership, his example, his approach really elevated my game, made me a better player.

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“…My name, my number don’t go into those rafters without those championships. And we don’t win those championships without Kobe Bryant.”

Greatness is all over this potential class, one highlighted by Gasol and the players he fought for championships with for a generation of NBA competition.

Wade is a 13-time All-Star, a three-time champion and one of the defining talents of an era of NBA basketball, a player who helped usher in the superteam era with the sacrifice and flexibility he showed playing with LeBron James and Chris Bosh with the Heat.

Popovich is the NBA’s all-time winningest coach and a five-time league champion. Parker was a key piece in most of those teams, a Finals MVP and, like Gasol, part of the NBA’s European invasion.

At the head of that line is Nowitzki, who was immortalized with a statue on Christmas Day in Dallas before the Lakers played the Mavericks.

Those players were joined by coaches Gene Bess, David Hixon and Gene Keady.

Women’s basketball legends Azzi and Hammon along with coaches Gary Blair and Marian Washington were also among the dozen finalists.

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But for Lakers fans, this will be all about Gasol.

“I’m just enjoying it, not really dwelling too much on everything that’s happening,” Gasol said. “Little by little, I hope I can take it in and savor — these moments are special.”

Friday was just the start.

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