Juan Carlo R. Mercado

Fifteen years ago, a towering 7-foot center from Spain set foot on Los Angeles soil. That time, the Lakers were looking for a perfect Robin to Kobe's Batman -- they found Pau Gasol. The Lakers then emerged victorious during the next couple of years, sealed by two championships. 

Photo Courtesy of Sporting News

The Los Angeles Lakers retired Pau Gasol's No. 16 jersey and hang it beside Kobe Bryant's retired number 24 jersey during the halftime period of their game against the Memphis Grizzlies last March 8. This is to recognize Gasol's hard work, work ethic, skill, dedication, and all the tangibles and intangibles that he poured out during his exceptional 18-year career.

Gasol was initially drafted by the Atlanta Hawks in 2001 but was traded to the Grizzlies that same year. However, in 2008, a drastic change came into his life and career, playing alongside the Mamba and for one of the known teams in the NBA–the Lakers. 

With Gasol's presence in LA, not only did they grab one of the best big men in the game at that time, but they also booked a ticket to the NBA Finals. 

“I think I’ve done as good as I could to really embrace it and savor it, but tonight really exceeds any dream or expectation that I’ve had,” Gasol said before the game while wearing one championship ring on each hand. 

“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 added.

Gasol and Bryant joined forces to stop the mighty Boston Celtics in 2009 and 2010, and now, their jerseys hang beside each other–a remembrance that back in their prime, they were one of the best one-two punches in the league. 

An enthusiastic Kobe opened Gasol's jersey retirement program through a video from Vanessa Bryant. In the video, the late NBA legend expressed his eagerness and excitement for his partner's jersey retirement.

“When Pau retires, he will have his number in the rafters next to mine. I really look forward to the day when he’s giving his speech at center court in front of all the fans who have supported him over the years. It’s going to be an awesome night”, said Bryant in the introduction video.

Gasol then thanked his fans as well as the people who poured their support into him from the start of his 18-year career.

“I’m just overwhelmed to see the faces here, all of you. It’s been my honor to wear this jersey, to play for this franchise, and to help this team.” Gasol shared.

“I would have never in a million years believed a day like this could come. It just tells you to never say never. Just push yourself every day to be the best that you can be,” he added.

For his height, Gasol's versatile playstyle gave Kobe a helping hand that also complemented his playstyle–suffocating and irritating defense, play-making ability, the ability to score over many defensive masterminds in the game– and Mamba mentality. 

Gasol averaged 17.7 points and 9.9 rebounds per game while playing for Los Angeles, and was selected to three of his six All-Star teams throughout his career.

Since being traded to LA 15 years ago, his legacy was cemented due to his exceptional skills, versatility, and his legendary playoff runs with Kobe.

Diana Mae Salonoy