The Los Angeles Lakers have been home to some of the greatest American basketball players of all time, from Jerry West to LeBron James. But they’ve also been fortunate enough to have a handful of talented international players like Vlade Divac and Pau Gasol, the latter of whom helped Kobe Bryant bring the team’s most recent two championships to Los Angeles.
Gasol, the oldest of three brothers, was born in Barcelona in 1980. Gasol played basketball professionally in Spain before coming to the United States in 2001 to play for the Memphis Grizzlies, who selected Gasol with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2001 NBA Draft. At the time, Gasol was the first European player in NBA history to get drafted in the top-three without having ever played in college. Since then, Andrea Bargnani — the No. 1 overall pick in the 2006 NBA Draft — has broken that record.
Anyway, Gasol spoke English when he came to the U.S., the same way many people speak Spanish in the U.S., but he obviously didn’t speak it as fluently as he did Spanish, his first language. With that in mind, Kobe Bryant communicated with Gasol in Spanish when the Lakers traded for him in 2008, and it’s something Gasol told Omar Raja of ESPN he always appreciated about Bryant:
“Right away from the first game he started speaking Spanish. On our coverages, on our plays. It was great. It was something that I obviously didn’t expect at the beginning, even though I knew that he spoke really good Italian because he spent quite a bit of time in Italy when his dad played there when he was young.
“But then being married to Vanessa, she speaks Spanish very well (and) obviously he picked up some stuff. He was great, we did speak quite a bit of Spanish, especially our first years so that the opponents couldn’t understand. And they would point it out, they would go ‘what are you guys talking about?’ It was pretty funny ... It created that bond and that relationship from the get go, and he set the tone.”
We’ve all heard the stories about what a pain the neck Bryant was as a teammate, even in his later years, but there are also examples like this that show Bryant was willing to go above and beyond for anyone that was willing to help him achieve his goal of winning a championship. That’s not to say Gasol didn’t get tough love from Bryant — he absolutely did — but some players weren’t even lucky enough to get that from the Mamba.
Bryant and Gasol’s relationship evolved beyond the basketball court, and hopefully the Lakers immortalize their friendship by hanging Gasol’s jersey next to Bryant’s in the rafters at Staples Center.