When the Los Angeles Lakers unveiled Pau Gasol’s retired jersey next to Kobe Bryant’s, the retired basketball player did not hold back the tears.
The 42-year-old, who played six and a half seasons in Los Angeles and won two championships, had his iconic No. 16 jersey retired on Tuesday night during a halftime ceremony.
“It’s been my honor to wear this jersey, to play for this franchise and to help this team. … I would have never in a million years believed a day like this could come,” the athlete said during his moving acceptance speech. “It just tells you to never say never. Just push yourself every day to be the best that you can be.”
The professional athlete went on to acknowledge his background as a Spanish player and voiced his excitement over seeing more European athletes in the league. “I’m proud to see that,” he relayed. “That inspires not only European kids, but players across the world. Give yourself a chance if you really want it. It’s been great to see the game grow globally.”
However, Gasol largely honored Kobe Bryant during his speech as well. Bryant, who tragically passed away in a helicopter crash just over three years ago, was recognized by Gasol as a “better player” and “a better man overall.”
Pau Gasol says he loves Kobe Bryant during jersey retirement speech
“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,” he said. “I miss him so much, like many of us do. I love him; I wish he was here with Gigi, I really do. But, I think he’ll be proud and he was looking forward to this moment. I love you, brother.”
Additionally, Gasol made sure to address Vanessa Bryant during the event. He told Vanessa, who returned to the lakers court for the first time since her husband and daughter’s memorial service in 2020, that he loves her and is “proud to be an uncle” to her “lovely girls.”
Incredibly, Kobe Bryant actually predicted Gasol’s jersey being retired prior to his death. “I really look forward to the day when he’s there giving his speech at center court, in front of all the fans who have supported him over the years,” Kobe said in a video shared by the NBA on Tuesday night. “It’s going to be an awesome night.”
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