The affectionate smile formed on Pau Gasol’s face as he thought about what awaited him.
In what will mark the first time since squaring off in the 2012 Olympics, Gasol will greet Kobe Bryant as an opponent when the Lakers (9-38) host the Chicago Bulls (25-19) on Thursday at Staples Center. After spending 6 1/2 years with the Lakers from 2008 to 2014, Gasol signed with Chicago as a free agent. But Gasol and Bryant did not play against each other because of Bryant’s various injuries.
“It’ll be fun and I look forward to it. I’d love to see him on the floor,” Gasol said following morning shootaround at UCLA. “It’ll be a fun game and a special game for me for many reasons.”
There are many reasons. He still has waxed nostalgia about his 6 1/2 seasons with the Lakers that included three consecutive NBA Finals appearances and two NBA championships. Gasol plans to visit Dr. David Skaggs at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles before Sunday’s game against the Clippers. Gasol also called Los Angeles “one of the best cities in the world.”
But one of the main reasons included Bryant, who argued this week that Gasol did not become fully appreciated amid diminished roles under former Lakers coaches Mike Brown and Mike D’Antoni as well as never-ending trade speculation. The Lakers had sent Gasol to Houston on Dec. 2011 as part of the Chris Paul deal, but the NBA halted the trade.
“Some people appreciate you more. Some people don’t. Not everyone is going to appreciate you the same way,” Gasol said. “That’s something you have to live with and that’s what happens to all of us. But there were a lot of people that appreciated me and Kobe was definitely one of them.”