NBA star Pau Gasol, who won two back-to-back championships with Kobe Bryant during their time on the Los Angeles Lakers, opened up to the Los Angeles Times about hearing the news of his former teammate’s death.
In a video interview with the Times, the 39-year-old center from Spain said he was driving home with his wife, Catherine McDonnell, when the reports of the Jan. 26 helicopter crash that killed Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and seven others, first broke.
“[She] got a message from a friend saying that Kobe Bryant had died in a helicopter crash. I didn’t quite understand what she was saying,” he recalled, adding that McDonnell later told him that his face turned white in the moment. “I’m listening to those words, and I let them sink into my mind.”
“I get home and I just started crying, it was hard to find words, I couldn’t talk to anyone for days,” Gasol told the outlet. “The only person I talked to was [Lakers vice president of basketball operations Rob Pelinka].”
“I basically didn’t leave the house,” he added.
Gasol joined forces with Bryant in 2008, when he was traded to the Lakers from the Memphis Grizzlies. The seven-footer made the team instant contenders for the NBA championship, helping to lead the Lakers to an NBA finals appearance that season, where they lost to the Boston Celtics.
Gasol continued on to say that other than leaving for a previously scheduled doctor’s appointment, the NBA star only left his home in the time following Bryant’s death to catch a plane to L.A.
“It just felt wrong being away from here,” he told the Times. “I needed to be here, to be close to his family and be available.”
Gasol also connected with Bryant’s wife, Vanessa, to let her know he was there to support her if needed.
“I couldn’t imagine the pain she was going through, because if I was struggling, her loss was plural. I couldn’t even think of what that felt like, and I wouldn’t know what to say,” Gasol explained. “At the end of the day, that’s what I consider us to be, family.”
After losing the 2008 NBA Finals to the Celtics, the Lakers rebounded the following year to win the title against the Orlando Magic, led by the performances of Bryant and Gasol. It was Bryant’s fourth championship and Gasol’s first.
The team would earn their revenge against the Celtics a year later when they faced them in the 2010 NBA Finals. The Lakers beat the Celtics in Game 7 at Staples Center — the fifth and final NBA championship for Bryant.
“To see how a lot of people honored him, it was incredibly moving and touching to me,” Gasol said of the reaction from around the world after Bryant’s death. “You see what his impact on this world has been… with so much more ahead of him. It’s just devastating.”
He added, “It’s up to each and every one of us to pick up where he left off.”
An L.A. memorial will be held for Bryant and Gianna at Staples Center on Monday, Feb. 24. The event will also honor victims John Altobelli, Keri Altobelli, Alyssa Altobelli, Sarah Chester, Payton Chester, Christina Mauser, and pilot Ara Zobayan.
If you would like to help the families of the victims of the crash, consider donating to the Mamba on Three Fund. Contributions to the Mamba & Mambacita Sports Foundation will help support youth sports.