Kobe Bryant and Team USA faced off against Pau Gasol and Spain in the 2008 gold medal game at the Olympics. It was the toughest game the “Redeem Team” played in China, as Spain matched up well against them.
Led by Dwyane Wade and Bryant, Team USA defeated Spain by a final score of 118-107. The two All-Star guards combined for 47 points and outdueled Gasol and Rudy Fernandez, who combined for 43 points for Spain.
Although they were teammates in the NBA on the Los Angeles Lakers, Bryant and Gasol went at each other in the gold medal game. There was one play where Bryant knocked Gasol to the ground and didn’t help him up. It showed how competitive the Black Mamba was.
When Bryant and Gasol returned to LA to begin Lakers training camp for the 2008-09 NBA season, Bryant savagely teased Gasol for losing the gold medal game to him. However, he was also motivating the big man.
Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol lost the 2008 Finals
The Lakers acquired Gasol from the Memphis Grizzlies at the 2008 trade deadline. Bryant and the Spaniard were stellar in the pick-and-roll game and guided LA to the 2008 Finals.
Standing in their way of a championship was Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Rajon Rondo, and the Boston Celtics. Despite Bryant averaging 25.7 points per game and Gasol putting up a double-double, the Lakers lost to the Celtics in six games.
Game 6 of the 2008 Finals was the most embarrassing loss of Bryant’s Hall of Fame career, as the Lakers lost by 39 points in Boston. Even though Bryant won the 2007-08 MVP Award, he was devastated about losing the Finals to the Lakers’ biggest rival.
The 2008 Olympics gave Bryant a chance to forget about losing to the Celtics. He helped Team USA win the gold medal at the expense of Gasol, who lost in the NBA Finals and gold medal game in a span of two months.
In classic Bryant fashion, the Lakers superstar not only rubbed his gold medal in Gasol’s face, but he also pushed his All-Star teammate to become tougher and never lose in a championship series again.
Bryant put his gold medal in Gasol’s Lakers locker
Lakers president Jeanie Buss recently told Matt Barnes and Stephen Jackson on the All The Smoke podcast that Bryant put his gold medal in Gasol’s Lakers locker before the 2008-09 NBA season. Gasol told the story in 2020, shortly after Bryant tragically passed away.
“Don’t allow yourself to lose again this season,” Gasol said about Bryant’s message to him. “We gotta win a championship. No more losing. You cannot allow yourself to lose. So that’s how he motivated me to step it up a notch.”
Gasol was labeled as being “soft” entering the 2008-09 season. However, after being fueled by Bryant, the talented center changed his mindset and how he approached the game.
Bryant knew he was petty toward Gasol by showing him his gold medal, but he also was aware of the goal he was trying to achieve, and it paid off in 2009 and 2010.
The Lakers won back-to-back titles in 2009 and 2010
Behind Bryant and Gasol, the Lakers won back-to-back championships in 2009 and 2010. LA defeated the Orlando Magic in 2009 and got its revenge against the Celtics in 2010.
Bryant won both Finals MVP Awards, but Gasol was a dominant force in the paint and shredded his soft label.
It may have hurt at the time, but Gasol seeing Bryant’s gold medal in his locker before the 2008-09 season was the best thing that could have happened to him.