National Basketball Association
Pau Gasol reflects on Kobe Bryant, his legacy on and off the court, more
National Basketball Association

Pau Gasol reflects on Kobe Bryant, his legacy on and off the court, more

Updated Nov. 5, 2021 4:45 p.m. ET

By Melissa Rohlin
FOX Sports NBA Writer

Pau Gasol had many brilliant moments throughout his 18-season career.

But there was one that changed his life.

"A moment that shifted my career was the trade to the Lakers because that opened up a whole different dimension," Gasol said Thursday in an interview with FOX Sports while promoting his new docuseries, "Pau Gasol: It's About The Journey."


That trade paired Gasol with Kobe Bryant in 2008, two teammates who would win championships together in 2009 and 2010 and forge a deep friendship, something Gasol acknowledged was "not easy to do" with Bryant. 

At the time, Bryant was fiery and endlessly determined to prove that he could win a title without Shaquille O'Neal, with whom he won three straight championships from 2000 to '02. They had a contentious relationship, which led to O'Neal being sent to Miami in 2004.

Over the years, Bryant alienated many teammates with his no-nonsense approach and single-minded drive to be the best. But Bryant and Gasol thrived together. There was a deep well of mutual respect during their six-plus years together, with both players learning from the other. 

"I learned first-hand what it meant to be the best," Gasol said of playing with Bryant, a five-time champion in his 20-season career. "The effort, the commitment [and] the work ethic he had was unparalleled. It inspired so many players, not just on his team but beyond his team. It inspired a generation, probably multiple generations of players that we see today."

'He wanted to be successful in every category' — Pau Gasol on his relationship with Kobe Bryant and the new docuseries about his career

Pau Gasol opens up to Melissa Rohlin about the biggest thing he learned from Kobe Bryant as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers, how he wants to be remembered as an NBA player and how he feels about being left off the NBA's 75 Greatest Players list.

Bryant, who died alongside his daughter Gianna and seven others in a helicopter crash in January 2020, also sang Gasol's praises. He repeatedly called Gasol his brother and would use an "hermano" hashtag whenever he wrote about him on Twitter. Bryant also made it clear that he wouldn't have won his final two titles without Gasol, noting that their jerseys should one day hang next to each other in the rafters at Staples Center.

When asked what was the greatest lesson he taught Bryant, Gasol shrugged at first. "I don't know if I taught him much," he said before recalling a conversation that reminded him otherwise.

"A close person to him told me that I taught him empathy, which is something that I guess I'm honored and proud of to share that with him," Gasol said.

Gasol announced his retirement last month, following a nearly two-decade career in which he averaged 17 points and 9.2 rebounds in 1,226 regular-season games with the Memphis Grizzlies, Lakers, Chicago Bulls, San Antonio Spurs and Milwaukee Bucks. He was a six-time All-Star and a four-time All-NBA selectee.

His soft touch, agility under the basket and unselfish play earned him widespread praise. But he wasn't included among the NBA's 75 Greatest Players, an omission that was widely considered a snub.

Gasol, however, didn't pay that much heed. 

"I don't really care too much about lists," he said. "I think, to a certain degree, they're very subjective. I'm really happy about how I played through my NBA career and the impact that I've had on my teams and teammates, and that's what I care about. Lists, at the end of the day, are to create maybe a little controversy or a little talk here and there, and that's OK. That's part of the sport, and that's how it should be. So I'm not offended by any means. And if I would've been on the list, I wouldn't think that I'm better than some of the many other great players that are not on the list."

Gasol's NBA career was cut short after he suffered a stress fracture in his left foot in 2019. But he refused to walk away from the sport.

Instead, he underwent a grueling, two-year rehabilitation process so that he could play with the Spanish club Barcelona and represent Spain last summer in the Tokyo Olympics, in which his team fell to the United States in the quarterfinals. 

Gasol showed an incredible amount of grit during that time, a theme that is explored in depth in his docuseries, which premieres on Prime Video on Nov. 12.

"I could've decided, 'Hey, two foot fractures on your navicular at 38 ... It's time to hang it up. You've had a great run. It's time to celebrate and don't put yourself through more struggle,'" Gasol said. "But I didn't do that. I decided to give myself a chance to fight for the opportunity to finish on my own terms, to finish my career on the court, to finish my career playing my fifth Olympics. That was something worth fighting for."

Gasol credits his wife, Catherine McDonnell, with supporting him through that period. He acknowledged that if she hadn't been behind him, he would've hung up his jersey years earlier. 

When Gasol finally walked away from basketball in October, he said he felt ready. 

He has always been a well-rounded person with a variety of interests that expand far beyond basketball. Throughout his career, in whatever city he was playing, he associated himself with a children's hospital. He was a Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF for more than 18 years. And he has supported various causes, including the fight against childhood obesity. 

For Gasol, his work off the court was always just as important as his work on it.

"It wasn't just about championships or points or All-Stars. It's what do you do with that?" he said. "If you don't do anything, or you fall in love with that alone, once that's over, what do you have? Who are you? To me, it's about being true to yourself, knowing who you are as a person and utilizing the opportunities that you have at hand in order to have a bigger impact and actually leave a true legacy beyond your profession."

Gasol will be known as a brilliant basketball player, one of Spain's all-time greatest athletes and a man who won over the toughest player in the game. But in the next phase of his life, he's ready to be known for much more.

He was recently elected to the International Olympic Committee Athletes' Commission. He intends to pour himself into the Gasol Foundation in an attempt to help children lead healthy and fulfilled lives. He has partnered with multiple companies, and he hopes to one day have a relationship with an NBA or WNBA team as an executive, consultant, advisor or investor.

But above all, Gasol knows where his focus will lie. 

"To be present for my family," he said. "To be a good husband and a good father."

After all, it's one of the most important lessons he learned from his mentor.

Gasol has remained very close to Bryant's family. In fact, he and his wife named their 1-year-old daughter "Elisabet Gianna Gasol" after Bryant's late daughter.

"He was a great girl dad, a great dad to his daughters, a great family guy, and that's something that I want to be — a great dad to my daughter," Gasol said.

Melissa Rohlin is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. She previously covered the league for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Times, the Bay Area News Group and the San Antonio Express-News. Follow her on Twitter @melissarohlin.


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