Here’s some NBA trivia for you. What do the Los Angeles Lakers and the Memphis Grizzlies have in common?
Aside from the fact that they played each other last night, both franchises come from old homes. The Lakers, Minneapolis. Memphis, Vancouver. They were also two of the places hoops legend Pau Gasol laid his hard hat at.
So what a perfect night to honour one of the best European players ever and a finalist for Naismith’s class of 2023.
At the half, the Lakers retired Gasol’s 16. One week after Pau’s hometown of Sant Boi, Spain erected a 28-foot jersey across their city hall. Your move Memphis.
Having such an international icon in the house spurred the Lake Show on in a 112-103 declawing of the Grizz. Growling behind another big-man legend for the purple and gold. Anthony Davis and his monster line of 30 points, 22 rebounds, 3 assists and a pair of blocks. Statistics that could underscore the ‘brow’s own Hall of Fame ballot when he calls it a career one day.
Even without King LeBron James and the ice in D’Angelo Russell’s veins, the Lakers got some help from Rui Hachimura’s midrange magic and powerful performances from the always dependable Austin Reaves (just call him the new ‘Big Country’) and Troy Brown Jr. from deep.
Come halftime, no one was heading for the concessions though. Everyone in attendance gifted with a Gasol jersey on their seats watched their two-time champ punch his ticket in the same rafters where he raised banners. Pau’s wife and young daughters looked on with dear friend Vanessa Bryant, as Pau took his rightful place amongst the Wilts’ and West’s of Lakers lore.
Kobe’s perfect partner after Shaq, Gasol took the Lakers from disgrace to a playoff race. Chasing that with two clicking glasses of championship champagne. Fellow Laker luminaries Lamar Odom, Metta Sandiford-Artest, Sasha Vujačić, Josh Powell, D.J. Mbenga and Derek Fisher were all there to support and celebrate their former teammate. Not to mention another seven-foot great in Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and the Magic man.
Pau’s brother Marc Gasol (also a Grizzlies and Laker player connection) stood behind him, alongside Jeanie Buss and Rob Pelinka. Tears rained from the stands like 16 and Bean used to do regally. The Jumbotron played out memories like it was only yesterday they were made. Ones that will live forever in legend.
“I think I’ve done as good as I could to really embrace it and savour it, but tonight really exceeds any dream or expectation that I’ve had,” the gentle giant told the press.” It means so much, and obviously with Kobe up there, it just adds something meaningful and powerful and sad and happy and painful and joyful. It’s a lot of things.”
The same video package of highlights was introduced by the late Kobe Bryant. Beaming back then about how he was looking forward to the day that Pau Gasol held center court like Rafael Nadal. Giving a speech for his own retirement ceremony.
He may not have been in the house, but you best believe he was watching proudly from above.
Next step to walk the Hall of Fame, one of the greatest post players in the Lakers’ long lineage of big-men finally took to the retirement rafters. Proudly sitting in the perfect place.
Side-to-side with number 24. How sweet it was for the gold 16.