Em(pau)ering the Game
Photo By Christopher Doomes
By William Clay III, Staff Writer
SALT LAKE CITY – A purple “Gigi” bracelet surrounded the wrist of Pau Gasol after the game. As usual, his late friend, Kobe Bryant, and goddaughter, Gigi Bryant, were on his mind and heart, but not as a player of the game this time. Future Hall of Famer and Los Angeles Lakers great Pau Gasol took to coaching in this year’s NBA Rising Stars Game.
Gasol, a former rookie of the year, was an assistant coach for the Portland Trail Blazers back in 2019 after surgery kept him from playing out his one-year deal. He also explored a role with the Golden State Warriors in early 2022. During this year’s Rising Stars Game, he was the leader of the team named after him, Team Pau. They won the championship after beating Team Deron [Williams] and Team Joakim [Noah], also coached by former players.
“It was fun,” Gasol said. “I told the guys to hustle more than the opponent and play a little defense and we have a chance to win. I’m proud of the guys; they really played well.”
The day did not leave much time for reflection on himself, although his name was announced next to fellow legends. His day consisted of an early morning press conference and getting ready to coach. Friday, the former power forward was named a 2023 Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame finalist.
Back-to-back months of accomplishments are in store for the clutch player known as “Meal Ticket.” Next month, the six-time All-Star will see his No. 16 jersey retired in Los Angeles, where he helped raise two championship banners. Gasol is not only loved for his time on the court but has more recently been praised for his support of the Bryants by maintaining their relationship, calling them his “family.”
“That’s around the corner now,” Gasol said. “It’s a huge honor, it’s gonna be exciting, it’s gonna be emotional, it’s gonna be super special.”
He is a beloved Laker and man because he sticks around. Whether that is for the game’s next bright stars or the family of his fallen friend just depends on the moment.
His team was able to complete his successful weekend, and Vanessa Bryant and her kids were there to greet him after his victory.