In the fall of 2008, Pau Gasol probably thought the indignities were over. Sure, his Lakers teammate, Kobe Bryant, had absolutely trucked him during a screen attempt in the gold medal game during 2008 Olympics as Bryant’s Team USA beat Gasol’s Spanish team, but that was over with, and they could just go back to being teammates, right?
Well... sort of. As Gasol recalled in a recent interview with the L.A. Times, Bryant had one more message to deliver, and he did so in typical Bryant fashion:
When the Lakers reconvened in the fall, Gasol found an unwelcome gift in his locker — Bryant’s gold medal.
Gasol recalled Bryant’s message: “Don’t allow yourself to lose again in this season. We got to win the championship. No more losing. You cannot allow yourself to lose.”
Bryant recalled the story a little more profanely back in 2018, remembering that Gasol called him “an a--hole” for the motivational tactic, but whatever the case may be, it did seem to work. The Lakers won the next two NBA championships, with this story highlighting well the sometimes-unique methods Bryant consistently used to cajole Gasol to be the “black swan” the Lakers needed him to be.
Did stuff like that sometimes earn the late Lakers legend a reputation for being a difficult teammate? Absolutely, but as we’ve seen recently during ESPN’s “The Last Dance” series, Bryant is far from the only NBA star to try and get the best out of their teammates with trash talk.
And the dynamic undoubtedly worked well for him and Gasol, with the hard-nosed superstar and softer-spoken big man forming an unforgettable and perfectly symbiotic brotherhood together from the moment Gasol arrived in Los Angeles. It led to the only two championships of Gasol’s career, and hopefully soon will also precipitate his jersey rising to join Bryant’s own two retired numbers in the Staples Center rafters, right where Bryant thought it belonged.
Something tells me it will be a far more welcome instance of Bryant helping hang something up than the medal in Gasol’s locker was, and it’s just a shame he won’t be there with Gasol to celebrate together, one more time.