By David Villafranca
Los Angeles, Feb 24 (EFE).- Spain’s Pau Gasol said in an interview with Efe ahead of his number retirement ceremony next month that it was a great privilege for him to have played a part in the storied history of the Los Angeles Lakers and to have formed a championship duo with one of basketball’s all-time greats, the late Kobe Bryant.
The 42-year-old former star forward/center, who spent seven seasons in Tinseltown, averaged 17.7 points, 9.9 rebounds and 1.4 blocks in 429 games and helped lead the Lakers to back-to-back NBA championships in the 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 seasons, will be honored for his outstanding contributions to the franchise at Crypto.com Arena on March 7.
Gasol, who became just the 11th Lakers player to receive that honor, will have the distinction of being the first non-American to have his number retired by that franchise.
Question: How are you approaching these few weeks before the big day?
Answer: Looking for things to distract me so I can stay calm. Every day, every hour that goes by, we’re closer to that very special moment, which is going to be very emotional, a huge avalanche and hurricane of emotions. It’s tough to take it all in, to process everything.
I think the most important thing will be to let myself go and let myself get carried away by those emotions and that moment, enjoy it and share it with everyone who’ll be able to be there in person or be able to follow it from somewhere in the world – especially in Spain, with special affection and pride.
For me, it’s a moment of tremendous gratitude to share with everyone who has accompanied me throughout my career in any capacity, and who has been a part of all the different moments that have led up to this moment.
Q: The No. 32 of Earvin “Magic” Johnson, the No. 33 of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the No. 8 and No. 24 of Kobe Bryant … What do you feel when you think about (your No. 16) being in the rafters alongside the names and jersey backs of these legends?
A: One aspect of this recognition and this great honor is this concept of immortality, which for a human being is something surreal, very utopian. But with this recognition, my name, my family and my number will in a certain sense be there (forever), with a franchise like the Lakers.
Q: In an interview with Efe in 2018, Kobe (Bryant, who died in a helicopter crash in Los Angeles in early 2020) said there was “no debate” about whether your number should be retired and that he was hoping to be a part of that tribute. How is Kobe’s memory there with you at this time?
A: It’s a constant thing. For me, it’s constant not only at this time, but on a daily basis. His presence, his spirit and his legacy are always with me … I have a lot to thank him for and I feel very fortunate to have shared a lot of things with him and to have considered him like an older brother. I’ll always see him like that. And even though he can’t be with us physically, he’ll be there in another way.
Q: The mutual affection and respect among the Lakers’ organization, their fans and you is very evident. Why do you think that connection was so strong from the beginning (Gasol moved to the Lakers in a trade after six and a half seasons with the Memphis Grizzlies) and continues to this day?
A: I’m really not sure … It’s something I’m obviously very grateful for and don’t take for granted. It’s something very special.
Everyone tells me that I always carried myself with a lot of class, a lot of respect (toward others), with a certain humility and with the values that my parents and my family taught me. I also worked a lot with the community of Los Angeles, doing things off the court and giving what I could to the team …
I don’t know. In the end, that’s almost more important than what you were able to do in a sporting sense. At the end of the day, it’s the person, not the player. For me, it’s always about caring for and being faithful to the person, and that’s among my biggest achievements in life, to be recognized more for that.
When you’re doing something as exceptional as playing a sport at an elite level, with so much recognition, with so much noise and so many distractions, and you continue to be yourself and keep treating everyone the same way, with respect, with affection, with honesty and with authenticity, I think people appreciate and value that. EFE