Shaq being traded to the Heat in 2004 marked the beginning of a new era for the Los Angeles Lakers, an era centered around Kobe Bryant, who was eager to prove that he could win without Shaq. The first few years after Shaq’s departure didn’t go according to Kobe’s plan. In his first year without The Big Diesel, the Lakers didn’t make the playoffs, and the following year they got bounced in the first round by Phoenix Suns.
The situation in LA got so tense that Kobe Bryant requested a trade, and teams were lining up to acquire Kobe’s services. The Detroit Pistons were prepared to make a deal that involved Tayshaun Prince, Rip Hamilton, and draft picks. Still, Kobe refused the trade because the Pistons weren’t on his list of preferred destinations. “Chicago was my number one destination,” said Kobe to Bill Simmons and Jalen Rose while being a guest at Sunday’s Grantland Basketball Hour in 2015.
Fortunately for Laker fans, none of the deals came through, and Kobe remained a Laker. Bryant’s trade request forced the Lakers’ front office to aggressively pursuit a second star to pair with Kobe. They finalized a deal with the Memphis Grizzlies and acquired Pau Gasol. Lakers “had to” give up Kwame Brown, Javaris Crittenton, Aaron Mckie, the draft rights to Marc Gasol and first-round picks in 2008 and 2010 but got big that made them contend for a title. The pairing of Gasol and Bryant brought the Lakers back to back championships in 2009 and 2010, giving Kobe his 4th and 5th championship ring.
Recently, Gasol went live on Instagram and talked about his trade to the Lakers. He revealed that at first, he was sad about being traded, having given so much to the Grizzlies, taking them to the playoffs for the first time, and winning an opening playoff game. He described it as a “sour feeling and something difficult to process.” Pau also described the first time he talked to Kobe after the trade. Bryant was very excited he got a teammate of Gasol’s quality and wanted to speak to him as soon as possible and welcome him to the team:
“The team was on the road; I joined the team. I wasn’t gonna play, they had an afternoon game the next day on Sunday. I was not gonna play that game, I hadn’t had a chance to practice or do anything, and Kobe had been texting me from the moment I got traded that as soon as I arrived in Washington D.C., he wanted to stop by in my room and kind of talk to me and welcome me to the team.”Pau Gasol
Kobe was aware that, for the first time since Shaq’s trade, he had a teammate good enough to start a championship quest with. He wanted to make an excellent first impression and assure that Pau understood what their main goal was, so he didn’t care that it was late at night, he made it his mission that he would welcome Pau to the team that night.
“I told him like ‘hey, okay, it’s gonna be late, like 1:30 or so, so you don’t have to. We can wait until tomorrow if you want.’ He was like ‘no, no, no. I’m coming. I’m coming.’ So he came; obviously, I was happily surprised, and he told me, ‘hey, I’m very happy that you’re here, very excited, this is great, but now let’s go win a championship.”Pau Gasol
Kobe’s approach sent a message to Pau about what he was going to be like as a leader and what he is all about. It also showed Pau a level of expectation Kobe had for him and the mindset he expected Gasol to have. Pau instantly realized that it was all about winning. The two had a fantastic run together and have developed a brotherlike relationship on and off the court. Gasol played a massive part in winning those two championships and was a great fit next to Bryant, playstyle, and mentality wise.