Pau Gasol Opens Up On Relationship With Kobe & Lakers Retiring His Jersey

We sat down with NBA legend Pau Gasol to talk about the Redeem Team doc, his relationship with Kobe, and the Lakers retiring his No. 16 next to Kobe's number.

Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant on the Los Angeles Lakers

Image via Getty/Jeff Gross

Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant on the Los Angeles Lakers

The 2008 Beijing Olympics provided iconic moments in abundance. From Usain Bolt’s dominant showing in track and field to Michael Phelps swimming into the history books to the Redeem Team re-establishing the United States as the premier country in men’s basketball. In the midst of all of that, Spain’s Pau Gasol was helping lead the Spanish national team to the gold medal final, where it ultimately fell short to the United States but he cherishes the history that was made between two teams playing in one of the great international basketball games of all-time.

“You feel like it was special,” said Gasol. “Put everything aside, you’re playing in the Olympics, you’re playing in the final for the gold medal, and you know you’re facing a great team. A team that was there on a mission.”

Gasol was one of several interviewees on the new documentary The Redeem Team, speaking from the perspective of an opponent and close friend of the late great Kobe Bryant. One of the most compelling scenes of the doc included an anecdote detailing Kobe’s intensity on the court. Gasol and Kobe’s relationship went far beyond basketball but when on the court as opponents, that all went out the window. Gasol sat down with Complex to detail the 2008 gold medal final against the Redeem Team, his relationship with Kobe Bryant and what it will mean to have his jersey retired by the Los Angeles Lakers this coming season.

In 2004, the US Olympic Men's Basketball team lost the gold and sought redemption in Beijing 2008. @KingJames, @DwyaneWade, and Kobe Bryant led The Redeem Team. This is that story. #TUDUM

— Netflix (@netflix) September 24, 2022

(This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.)

How did it feel watching this new generation of Spanish hoopers win EuroBasket this summer, especially considering they were not expected to win it going into the tournament?
It felt great. It was amazing to see, it was moving. I’m so happy for our team, our guys, the players, the coaches and the staff. The coaches and the staff are the same that they have been for years pretty much. So I was just very happy, very proud to see those guys not listen to the expectations, the noise, just go out there and play the game the right way and follow the legacy of the previous generation.

Over the last 20 years, Spain has been one of the premier countries when it comes to basketball on the national stage. You obviously play a big part in that, how much pride do you take in seeing where the country stands now in the sport compared to where it was when you were first coming up in the system?
I feel very proud because I can’t help but feel like I am one of those players that have planted the seeds and was a part of creating something special and that it continues. It’s almost the feeling of seeing your younger brother do so well, or even your child. You’ve given the tools, tried to provide them with an opportunity and expose them to the right stuff and at some point you have to move and let them walk and be their own person. But you feel like you have planted some of the seeds for the foundation for the identity, just like many other players have done throughout the years that have been a part of the team. It’s just great to see.It’s great to see the concept of team is important, it’s not about the talent of the individual or a couple of individuals but all of those individuals coming together, playing together, sacrificing the ball, playing the right way, believing in themselves and at the end of the day achieving the ultimate goal, which in this case was winning the European championship. 

In the 2008 Summer Olympics, the United States Redeem Team won but the gold medal final between them and Spain is widely regarded as one of the greatest international basketball games ever played. Can you speak to what it was like to be in that game with all of the NBA players on both teams?
You feel like it was special. Put everything aside, you’re playing in the Olympics, you’re playing in the final for the gold medal, and you know you’re facing a great team. A team that was there on a mission, a team that we understood that they were upset about falling short, not just about 2004 and 2006, but also in 2002 in Indianapolis. So, they were ready and it was great to see how that team played at that level for that year in 2008 and how they approached it. How they spent 30 days together in Vegas, obviously the addition and commitment by Kobe to helping that team win and bring a different edge, leaving his own stamp which was critical for that team. So you see that process, you don’t just see a game or a result, you see why and how you get there and the details are important. Understanding the story and the history of it, the Doug Collins story. I think that that is also interesting.

One of the scenes from the documentary that has caught a lot of traction was the scene with LeBron, Carmelo and Dwayne Wade detailing Kobe telling them he was going to run through your chest on the first play of the game. Did you two ever talk about that after the game, of course him being your teammate on the Lakers and did you get a chance to laugh about that moment with him?
It was just to show and send a message to our team and his team that ‘hey, this is how serious this is for me. This is how I’m going to approach this and what I’m willing to do to win this.’ So I think you see how he was just a different type of player, his approach and ability to go to another level. It didn’t really surprise me to be honest, I was expecting it. And it was physical from the very beginning, you see Dwight Howard and Chris Bosh, whoever had to guard me, their only message was to hit me every chance they got. So yeah, it was a message to everyone and it didn’t surprise me or catch me off guard. I took it and we moved on.

Transitioning to the Lakers, you are getting your jersey retired this upcoming season by the franchise. In your seven years with the Lakers, you reached three NBA Finals, won two championships, and were named to three All-NBA teams. What does it mean to you to have your jersey retired next to guys like Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe, Magic Johnson, Kareem, Wilt, those type of legendary figures. What does that mean to you to have your jersey retired in Arena in Los Angeles?
It’s overwhelming. It’s hard for me to grasp and digest, it’s just overwhelming. It’s such a huge honor and recognition by the franchise towards me and what I was able to contribute to those championships, so I’m still processing to be honest. I’m not really prepared for it, but I’m truly humbled and excited. I look forward to that moment, and I’m trying to picture it little by little. It’s very emotional too, everyday that goes by it’s just a little closer and it’s going to get a little more emotional for me, just to see my number, my name next to all of those greats that you mentioned that I don’t take for granted, I don’t take lightly. But also more importantly, next to Kobe’s No. 8 and No. 24. Knowing that Gigi and him will be looking and watching, unfortunately they won’t be next to me but I know that Vanessa and the girls will be there and it’s going to mean the world to me because Kobe got me to be a better player. Kobe made me a better competitor, he elevated me and that’s what all great players do. And I will forever be thankful to my older brother because he impacted my life in a huge way.

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