The emotional Pau Gasol takes his rightful place next to Kobe Bryant

He was the last wing man, the best supporting actor, the perfect complement.

Pau Gasol spent seven Lakers seasons in Kobe Bryant’s shadow, accepting raw challenges, absorbing trash talk, burying his ego in favor of producing two NBA championships for his far more famous colleague.

Every Lakers fan knew Bryant wore #8 and #24. Few knew that Gasol had the number 16.

Until now Now they know. They will know forever. An elegant reminder will hang in the Arena fibers, where Gasol’s number was retired on Tuesday night for the most unusual and understandable of reasons.

He was Kobe Bryant’s greatest teammate. He used their synergy to help him in three of his greatest seasons. Those three straight trips to the NBA Finals from 2008 to 2010 led to those two titles.

Pau Gasol holds his daughter Elisabet Gianna Gasol while talking to Vanessa Bryant during halftime of the Lakers’ jersey retirement ceremony on Tuesday night.

(Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times)

Pau and Kobe are now a couple forever.

“Ko-be, Ko-be, Ko-be,” chanted the fans.

“Pau-Gasol, Pau-Gasol”, shouted the fans.

When Gasol’s jersey was unveiled at halftime of the Lakers’ win over the Memphis Grizzlies, it slowly appeared next to a Bryant jersey. With a suit on center court and two championship rings, Gasol cried.

“I’m overwhelmed to see all the faces here,” Gasol said during the seven-minute speech. “But I can’t go on without talking about the person and the face I can’t see. My brother lifted me up and…challenged me to be a better player and a better man overall. I miss him dearly, as do many of us. I love him. I wish I was here with Gigi.’

Gasol stared at the two bright jerseys hanging high in the dark room.

“I love you brother,” she said.

Former Lakers star Pau Gasol had his jersey retired during a halftime ceremony on Tuesday.

Former Lakers star Pau Gasol had his jersey retired during a halftime ceremony on Tuesday.

(Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times)

The ceremony properly began with a video presentation by Vanessa Bryant, who was on the court for the first time since Kobe’s death.

“Pau is special … as a teammate, as a man and as a friend,” he said.

He then turned his attention to an old video of Bryant strangely announcing this night to Gasoli. It only indicates that, once again in their relationship, Bryant set the agenda.

“When he retires, he’s going to have his number on the side,” Bryant told Gasol in the video. “The Lakers don’t have those two championships without Pau… we know that, everyone knows that. I look forward to the day he will be there giving his speech in the middle court”.

The camaraderie that started as a fight and ended in a hug was incredible. It was a relationship that improved a superstar and saved a dynasty.

When Gasol was traded to the Lakers in February 2008 in one of the biggest deals in basketball history — Mitch Kupchak was essentially stolen from Memphis for Kwame Brown and the untested Marc Gasol — Bryant was still mad about the team’s disintegration.

Bryant requested a trade. He asked for another star. In a grocery store parking lot in Newport Beach the summer before, he told strangers that if the Lakers didn’t do something to improve themselves, he’d rather play in Pluto.

Turns out, it was Gasol who brought Bryant to the floor. It was Gasol who helped keep Bryant in a Lakers uniform throughout his career. It was Gasol who helped the Lakers become Lakers again.

Once they schooled the Mamba Mentality, of course.

Pau Gasol addressed the Arena crowd during the Lakers' jersey retirement ceremony on Tuesday.

Pau Gasol addressed the Arena crowd during the Lakers’ jersey retirement ceremony on Tuesday.

(Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times)

Gasol was a star in Memphis but he was not a champion. His teams swept them in each of his three postseason series. He had a reputation for pushing himself in painting. People called it “Ga-soft”.

Bryant immediately hit on the nickname. He worked with Gasol in a way he never could with Shaquille O’Neal. Gasol didn’t fight him, he embraced him. Gasol didn’t build a stone wall, he built a sponge.

“(Kobe) definitely inspired me and showed me what it took to be the best player I could be: work ethic, dedication, mindset,” Gasol said.

Bryant initially attacked his physicality, Gasol fought back, and the heckling got worse. Even though the Lakers went 27-9 in Gasol’s first season, Bryant knew Gasol wasn’t ready for a title, and he worked hard. Gasol suffered from bullying Bryant during the 2008 Finals when Kevin Garnett was bullied. Bryant held off the tie at the 2008 Olympics, then mocked him by benching the U.S. gold medalist at the start of the 2008-09 training camp for Spain.

Gasol finally stepped up to help the Lakers dominate the 2009 playoffs, culminating in a Finals victory in Orlando, then really became a factor in 2010.

He tipped the game-winning basket in the final seconds to give Oklahoma City a first-round series win, then came up big in Game 7 of the Finals against the Celtics.

Pau Gasol wipes away tears after retiring his jersey during Tuesday's halftime ceremony.

Pau Gasol wipes away tears after retiring his jersey during Tuesday’s halftime ceremony.

(Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times)

With Garnett looking down, he scored 19 points with 18 rebounds and two blocks. In a game where Bryant struggled, Gasol shined, and the transformation was complete.

Before the start of the 2011-’12 season, the Lakers tried to send gasol to Houston. The trade was vetoed, but Gasol was heavily injured, and spent three more seasons with the Lakers before leaving as a free agent.

But he’s back, finally thanked for his contribution, finally admired for how he contributed, honored as a worthy co-star of arguably the group’s biggest star.

Now they will float together with their connection on the Lakers court they once conquered, Pau Gasol, number 16, next to Kobe Bryant, number 24, just look.

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