Being one of the biggest competitors in NBA history and sports in general, Kobe absolutely hated how the Los Angeles Lakers lost the championship series vs. the Boston Celtics in 2008. So he conceived a plan of pushing his teammate towards elevating his game the next season to a new dimension. Bryant wanted Gasol to toughen up and play even harder because that was one of the most significant pain points in the Celtics championship series.
With the 2008-2009 training camp launch, Gasol found a shiny metal object waiting for him in his locker. It was the gold medal that Kobe won with Team USA in that summer’s Olympic Games by beating Spain, and Pau, in the final game. According to Bryant, Gasol got quite mad at him. But the end result paid off since Kobe and Pau won two back-to-back rings together in 2009 and 2010. Even sweeter by taking vengeance against the Celtics.
However, before they could win back-to-back championships together, Bryant felt he had to use it to get under Gasol’s skin to motivate him. He explained his interesting strategy to Lewis Howes in an interview on “The School of Greatness”.
“One of my favorite ones (things that motivate teammates), Pau hates it every time I tell this story. Hates it. But we lost to the Celtics in 2008. And it was a physical series, I mean, they beat the crap out of us. So we go into the Olympic year that year, we played Spain in the gold medal match and we beat them. So now we come back to start training camp, and when Pau shows up the first day of training camp, I have my gold medal hanging in his locker.
“The one thing that he [Pau Gasol] truly, truly loves is his country. And that is like everything to him. So it just drove him crazy. I said ‘Pau, listen…’ and he said ‘You’re an a-hole!’ I said: ‘Listen, Pau, you lost to the Celtics, you lost to us in the gold medal match, let’s not make this three in a row this year, OK? Let’s win this thing.’ And that was it.
Pau was a phenomenon, to begin with. And for him was just to step up to the next level of physicality, which he did and we went to win back-to-back championships.”Kobe Bryant, via Lewis Howes
It seems everything clicked for the Lakers afterward because they would win two NBA titles in a row. They would also get their revenge against the Celtics in the 2010 NBA Finals, and Gasol played a crucial role in both of those championship runs. Being Kobe’s teammate did wonders for Gasol, who found his inner toughness and played like a true All-Star during his tenure with the Lakers.