VIDEO: The Starters discuss their favorite moments from Kobe’s career
CHICAGO – Plaudits have rolled in from most precincts in the NBA, rivals and friends celebrating and reminiscing about Lakers great Kobe Bryant as if he’s not going to still be around for another five months. But Pau Gasol shared a special bond with Bryant. The pair teamed for two NBA titles and three trips to the Finals in their time together in Los Angeles, yet mixed at times like oil and water given their very different demeanors.
That’s why Gasol’s thoughts on Bryant’s announcement that this season would be his last were of extra interest to fans of Bryant, the Lakers and the league.
“He’s got that alpha-personality character,” Gasol said Monday evening before his Chicago Bulls team faced San Antonio at United Center. “You just have to understand where he’s coming from and work with that the best you can. Don’t try to bump heads with him. That’s not going to work out really well.
“So I understood. And my personality fit in perfectly with his and the team at the time. I never searched for the spotlight. I wasn’t trying to step on anybody’s toes. I was just trying to do whatever it took to win championships and help the team. And we did it great. I think we developed great chemistry, a great relationship and great respect.”
Gasol said he wasn’t given any heads-up from Bryant prior to his announcement Sunday via the Players Tribune Web site. But like a lot of insiders, putting 2 + 2 together – Bryant’s declining skills and the Lakers’ losing ways – wasn’t exactly calculus.
“I had a feeling this was probably going to be his last season,” Gasol said. “I was just hoping he would just have a healthy season, where he could enjoy himself in a situation where, team-wise, it’s a franchise that’s rebuilding with a lot of young talent. They’re probably not going to win a lot of games, so I just want him to have as much fun as possible in his last year.”
The team at the other end of the hallway Monday night, the Spurs, has more than its share of Bryant-vintage players, including Tim Duncan (39), Manu Ginobili (38), Matt Bonner and David West (35 each) and Tony Parker and Boris Diaw (33 each).
Ginobili’s thought upon hearing Bryant’s news? ” ‘I’m next?’ It’s coming,” the Spurs wing player said. “Of course it happened with Steve [Nash] last year, when he announced it. It surprised me [with Bryant] because it’s so early in the season. I guess he’s going through a tough time, so that’s what made him call it now.”
San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich initially didn’t have much to say about the approaching departure of a prime nemesis. “All my Kobe memories are when he beat us somehow or other,” Popovich said. “They’re not very fun.”
But then Popovich’s appreciation for Kobe as competitor kicked in. “Beyond his ability, he’s one of those guys who brought it every night,” he said. “He wanted to destroy the opponent every night. Just a fierce competitor for all those years, night after night after night. Most players don’t know what that is, and he did it.”