Vanessa Bryant walked on the field at the Lakers’ arena for the first time since the day of Kobe and Gianna Bryant’s memorial service on Feb. 24, 2020, this time to commemorate her late husband’s close friend and teammate Pau Gasol as the team retired his No. 16 jersey.
The Los Angeles Lakers’ owners and players spoke about Gasol’s legacy on the franchise, which includes two NBA championships and many All-Star Game appearances, and raised his number to the rafters at the event on Tuesday.
Gasol, 42, was a close friend of Kobe’s and has supported Vanessa, 40, and her daughters — Natalia, 20, Bianka, 6, and Capri, 3 — since Kobe and Gianna died in a helicopter crash on January 26, 2020, along with seven others.
Talking to reporters after arriving at the arena on Tuesday, he talked candidly about his time on the court with Kobe.
In a clip shared on the NBA’s Twitter account, he shared: “He definitely inspired me and showed me what it took to be the best player that you could be. The work ethic, the dedication, the mindset going into it. He challenged me to be better with his actions and with his work. He was very intentional with his actions.”
Gasol also stated that he would not be in this position without Kobe and that he would be thinking of him throughout the night.
“It’s impossible [to separate],” Gasol said, according to ESPN’s Dave McMenamin. “It’s inevitable. I don’t know how. … My number goes up there, in big reason, because of him.”
“And also how he made me better, how he made us better, how he led us in those runs, and the effect that he had. And then obviously not having him here with us, it’s tough.”
Vanessa hadn’t returned to the Los Angeles arena, then known as the Staples Center and now known as the Crypto.com Arena, since Kobe and Gianna’s memorial service. That day, she delivered a devastating eulogy to her husband and their 13-year-old daughter.
“They were so easy to love. Everyone naturally gravitated toward them. They were funny, happy, silly, and they loved life. They were so full of joy and adventure,” Vanessa told the packed arena.
“God knew they couldn’t be on this earth without each other. He had to bring them home to have them together,” said Vanessa before telling her late husband: “Babe, you take care of our Gigi. And I got Nani, B.B. and Koko. We’re still the best team. May you both rest in peace and have fun in Heaven until we meet again one day. We love you both and miss you. Forever and always, Mommy.”