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Only a chosen few of the millions of people who play basketball around the world get to wear the jersey of the Los Angeles Lakers. And even fewer do so with such excellence that their number ends up getting retired.
But that is what has happened to Pau Gasol and his now legendary number 16. The player from the Catalan town of Sant Boi is now one of the twelve players whose shirt number hangs from high at the Crypto.com Arena, the current name of the Staples Center.
Gasol, who started out at FC Barcelona before heading across the Atlantic, played his first games in the US at the Memphis Grizzlies. His outstanding displays earned him a move to the NBA where he'd win two NBA rings and play 476 games.
It was at half-time in a game between precisely those two sides that would end in a 112-103 win for the Californian side. During the interval, there wasn't a dry eye in the house as Pau Gasol's number 16 made its way to the ceiling, where it will hang alongside such names as Wilt Chamberlain, Magic Johnson, Jerry West and Karim Abdul-Jabbar.
"I’m just overwhelmed to see the faces here, all of you" he said. "It’s been my honor to wear this jersey, to play for this franchise and to help this team, to contribute to this city. 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.”
Remembrance for Kobe Bryant
But most of all, his shirt now joins that of his close friend and team-mate, the late Kobe Bryant. He had a tearful message for Bryant's widow Vanessa. "I can't go on without talking about the person and the face that I don't see. The brother that elevated me, inspired me, challenged me to be a better player, just to be a better man overall."
“Love you, sister. I’m proud to be your brother, and proud to be an uncle to your girls.”
"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. 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.”
The people there to honour one of the greatest European hoops players of all time included the likes of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, James Worthy and former team-mate at the Chicago Bulls, Jimmy Butler, as well as fellow Spaniards José Calderón, Felipe Reyes, Juancho Hernangómez and Raúl López, and obviously also his family, including his brother Marc Gasol.
FC Barcelona was represented by another of Pau's lifelong companions, ever since the two were teenagers in the Barça youth system, the great Juan Carlos Navarro, current manager of the club's basketball section.
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