Shooting guard Kobe Bryant and power forward/center Pau Gasol enjoyed an incredibly successful 6.5 seasons together as teammates on your Los Angeles Lakers, appearing in three straight Finals from 2008-10 and winning two as L.A.'s best players. Pau Gasol is set to have his No. 16 jersey retired by Los Angeles this spring, where it will join both Bryant's No. 8 and No. 24 threads.
The All-Star duo became fast friends on the floor following the February 1st, 2008 deal that sent center Kwame Brown, guards Javaris Crittenton and Aaron McKie, and the draft rights for Marc Gasol to the Memphis Grizzlies in exchange for Marc's big brother and a future 2010 first-rounder. Bryant and Gasol would often speak in Spanish on the court to conceal their plans from opponents.
Fresh off their first Finals appearance together, a six-game defeat against the loathed Boston Celtics, the fearsome twosome actually squared off against each other in the 2008 Olympic gold medal game.
Netflix's upcoming "Redeem Team" documentary tracks the journey of the 2008 U.S. Olympic men's basketball team to recapture gold medal glory after being ousted in the 2004 Olympic semifinal round by Manu Ginobili, Luis Scola, Andres Nocioni, and the rest of that summer's eventual gold medal-winning Argentinian team. The American team won the bronze medal in 2004 for the first time since U.S.-born NBA players had been permitted to play in the Olympics.
A newly-released clip from the doc (as shared by Gasol) showcases just how deep Bryant's competitive streak ran.
"Right before the game, Kobe came to see me, and when they came to visit the village," Gasol, then playing for the Spanish national team along with Marc, recalls in newly-recorded interview footage. "I remember that very clearly and vividly -- my big brother came to see me with my teammates... And I believe that might have been part of his strategy, to kind of soften me up."
"Kobe said [he was] gonna set the tone to start the game," Bryant's Olympic teammate LeBron James, now an All-Star with the Lakers, reflects in the documentary. "He said, 'I'm running through Pau's fucking chest.'" LeBron was dubious. "Man, you tripping. That's your teammate... you ain't about to do that."
Bryant and James's fellow Olympian Dwyane Wade, an eventual teammate of James with the Miami Heat and (briefly) the Cleveland Cavaliers, also appears to vividly remember this promise from the Black Mamba. "He said, 'First play of the game, I know what they're gonna run,'" Flash says. "He knew Pau was gonna be the last screen. And he said, 'I'm running through that motherf---er.'"
"He just went right to the middle of my chest, tried to get right through me to send a message, not just to me, but to his teammates, saying, 'Hey, this might be my brother. I play with him, we're close. But I don't care about anything else but winning,'" Pau says now.
2021-22 Los Angeles Lakers reserve power forward and four-time Olympic medalist Carmelo Anthony is the next Olympian to weigh in for the doc. "And [Bryant] was just like, 'No he ain't my teammate right now. Fuck him, get up.' I'm like, 'I love this energy, this is what we need!'"
And set the tone Bryant did. Team USA won that preliminary matchup 119-82.
The Spanish national team was formidable, having developed on-court chemistry from years spent together, while the U.S. team featured mostly All-Stars from disparate clubs. Spain featured eight NBA-level pros: the Gasol brothers (both probable future Hall of Famers), point guards Ricky Rubio, Jose Calderon and Raul Lopez, shooting guards Rudy Fernandez and Juan Carlos Navarro, and power forward Jorge Garbajosa Chaparro.
Captained by Bryant, the U.S. men's team trotted out a roster loaded with at least eight Hall of Fame players (the jury's still out on whether a ninth, four-time All-Star Deron Williams, will eventually land in Springfield). All told, five of those players eventually would have Lakers ties. As players, James and Anthony would sign on with L.A. years after their 2008 Olympic experience (and years after Bryant had retired), while center Dwight Howard would join Los Angeles over the course of three non-consecutive seasons. Point guard Jason Kidd served as an assistant coach under Frank Vogel from 2019-2021.
Led by Dwyane Wade's 28 points, Team USA would go on to prevail over Team Spain in the Olympic final, 118-107, and brought home the gold after a disappointing bronze finish in 2004.
Directed by Jon Weinbach, he "Redeem Team" documentary will debut on Netflix one week from today, October 7th.