Pau Gasol’s jersey retirement and his impact on the NBA becoming global

The ceremony is over. His #16 jersey is hanging from the rafters. But Pau Gasol is still processing his emotions a days later.

After all reflection is the deepest emotions for one to process, especially when it come in waves of appreciation.

“My emotions were riding extremely high,” Gasol told reporters on Wednesday night. “It was very intense, very overwhelming, very beautiful to receive such a huge honor, but with so many other emotional factors and triggers. Obviously, the love of the fans, the appreciation, the energy in the building. The presence of friends, family and people who mean a lot to me and my life.

“And clearly, Kobe’s absence — but still strong presence. All that just made it extremely intense.”

The relationship between Kobe and Pau resembles a brother, or as they referred to one another, Hermano. Pau being one of the few teammates to crack the code of Kobe to enter his actual life is never something those who knew Kobe took for granted, it was a tough process.

So when Gasol watched his jersey raise to the rafters beside Kobe’s 24, Gasol couldn’t help but be overcome with raw emotions. Kobe so badly wanted Gasol to have his day in the spotlight, to bask in the love Lakers fans have for him, for once to be a little selfish and own the spotlight.

But that isn’t Gasol, his entire speech he thanked others, never making it about himself despite it actually being all about him.

He even dedicated a full week to being in Los Angeles, giving back to both the community and current Lakers.

Gasol was at the Nike Community Store to help host a Nike & Gasol Foundation clinic — the first of four from Nike in Los Angeles — for over 30 boys and girls from the Los Angeles area. Gasol Foundation is part of Nike’s Made to Play initiative, which is its global commitment to getting kids moving.

He took time to walk through dribbling, passing and finishing drills with the children, alongside a handful of coaches. All while the back drop of a mural of Kobe and Gigi watching over them.

But the girls and boys of Los Angeles weren’t the only ones getting basketball tips from Gasol.

The Spaniard met with Anthony Davis during the Lakers 112-103 win over Memphis.

While the Lakers and Grizzlies came back on the floor to warm up for the second half, Lakers superstar Anthony Davis approached Gasol to congratulate him. Gasol was appreciative of the gesture, as Davis told Gasol he too wants to eventually rank among the Laker greats.

The Lakers have an illustrious lineage of legendary big men.

Mikan. Wilt. Kareem. Shaq.

And Pau.

“I told him that he could and that he should and that he will if he keeps doing what he’s doing,” Gasol said. “He’s a great player. He’s a great kid. He’s at an age where he’s still a lot to give, a lot to prove, a lot to accomplish. … He has that type of mindset of ambitiousness, of high goals, of greatness — and what it takes.”

Maybe one day Davis.

“That’s a huge honor to be up there with the greats — and he deserves it to be up there,” Davis said. “The list of big men that came through the Lakers organization and dominated and left their mark, it’s hard not to think about it. Obviously, I want to be in that category, in that group. And whenever my body tells me that I’m done playing, hopefully, I’m able to come back here and have the ceremony that Pau and the rest of the big men and other former Lakers have had.”

The Gasol-Davis conversation wasn’t the only interaction that drew attention on Tuesday. One of the most memorable moments of the evening was an embrace between Gasol and former teammate Jimmy Butler, who made the cross-country flight from Miami to Los Angeles on an off-day.

When the Lakers announced they were going to retire Gasol’s jersey in mid-August 2022, Butler reached out and told Gasol, “I’m going to be there.”

“Are you sure?” Gasol remembers asking him. “It’d be great if you could come.”

A few days before the ceremony, Butler texted Gasol, confirming he’d be there and would watch from a suite

“He made a huge effort to fly across the country to be there,” Gasol said. “Just shows his loyalty. How he feels, especially about me, in this case, and my family. Jimmy’s a special player, a special person, because how many people would do that?”

Gasol has certainly done his job as one of the trailblazers for international basketball’s expansion into the NBA. He was the second Spaniard to play in the league and the first to appear in the NBA Finals. His jersey is retired for one of the most recognizable franchises in sports.

It’s easy to see his influence on the current generation. There are obvious parallels between Gasol and two-time MVP Nikola Jokic: the passing, the crafty post game, the footwork, the soft touch, and the team-first approach.

He smiles when asked about the next generation of international stars — Jokic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Luka Dončić and Joel Embiid — and how they’ve taken over the league as its best and most dominant players.

“It makes me proud to see how the international game has grown and how international players are doing,” Gasol said. “I like to think that maybe I contributed a little bit to this reality where European players have nothing to fear, have nothing to envy, and actually dominate and are considered some of the best, if not the best players in the league. So it’s great how the game has grown. And I think that’s inspiring newer generations, also, to continue raising the bar.

“I think it’s great to see. It’s fun to watch. And it’s just proof of how global the game has become.”

That’s the only way to explain how a basketball legend from Spain could be hanging out in East Los Angeles in the middle of the workweek, helping shape the future generation of basketball players — as his brother and niece watch over him.

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