On February 1, 2008, the LA Lakers made a groundbreaking trade by acquiring Pau Gasol from the Memphis Grizzlies for Kwame Brown, Javaris Crittenton, Marc Gasol, Aaron McKie, and two first-round picks. Kobe Bryant had his “Robin” in the fold, and the Lakers went from being a playoff team to legitimate title contenders.
Behind Bryant and Gasol, the Lakers reached the 2008 Finals by defeating the Denver Nuggets, Utah Jazz, and San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference playoffs. However, LA lost to the Boston Celtics in the Finals in six games, as Bryant and Gasol didn’t have enough time to get on the same page to take down Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Rajon Rondo.
Eager to make their partnership work, Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol went to great lengths to get advantages over their opponents. From mastering the pick-and-roll game to speaking in foreign languages, the two Lakers stars were motivated to win a championship after coming up short in 2008.
Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol won the 2009 championship
The Lakers won 65 games during the 2008-09 season. Kobe Bryant averaged 26.8 points per game, while Pau Gasol put up 18.9 points and 9.6 rebounds.
In the 2009 Western Conference playoffs, the Lakers defeated the Jazz, Houston Rockets and Denver Nuggets to reach the NBA Finals for the second consecutive season. Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic won the Eastern Conference, and the Lakers were the overwhelming favorite to win the title.
Bryant and Gasol were a dominant one-two-punch against the Magic. The Black Mamba averaged 32.4 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 7.4 assists. Meanwhile, Gasol finished the series with averages of 18.6 points and 9.2 boards.
The Lakers defeated the Magic in five games for Kobe Bryant’s fourth title and first Finals MVP. While he was thrilled he and Pau Gasol got over the hump together, the former MVP still had one more hurdle to cross.
The Lakers and Celtics met again in the 2010 Finals
The Lakers lost Game 6 of the 2008 Finals to the Celtics by a whopping 39 points. During the end of the fourth quarter, Kobe Bryant sat on the bench and looked as physically and mentally drained as he’d ever appeared.
Pau Gasol was called “soft” by many pundits in the 2008 Finals. The Spaniard clearly heard the criticism because he came back a different player in 2008-09 when the Lakers defeated the Magic in the Finals.
When the Lakers and Celtics met in the 2010 Finals, Bryant was on a mission to take down Boston and redeem himself for losing in 2008. With Gasol by his side, the two-time scoring champion got his revenge against the Celtics and dramatically won his fifth championship.
The Lakers came back from a 3-2 deficit and won Game 7 at Staples Center. Bryant won his second straight Finals MVP and finally accomplished his goal of winning one more championship than Shaquille O’Neal.
The chemistry between Bryant and Gasol was on full display in the 2010 Finals, as both stars put up fabulous numbers and were nearly unguardable in pick-and-roll sets.
Since several of the elite teams in the NBA knew all the plays the Lakers ran, Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol found a unique way to communicate on the court without anyone knowing what they were talking about.
Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol spoke in Spanish
Kobe Bryant was fluent in Spanish. According to Bryant’s trainer, Tim Grover, Kobe and Pau Gasol used to speak in Spanish on the court so the Lakers’ opponents had no idea what was going on.
“Pau Gasol was one of his teammates, the Spaniard. So, they would communicate on the court in Spanish so the other team wouldn’t know what they were talking about, “Grover told GQ in 2019.
It’s stories such as this one that keep Kobe Bryant’s legacy and mystique alive even though he’s sadly no longer with us.
Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference.