Pau Gasol, who won two NBA championships with Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers, said he could not talk to anyone for days after hearing about Bryant's death. Bryant died in a helicopter crash on Jan. 26 in Calabasas, California with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna Bryant and seven others. Gasol, 38, referred to Bryant as his "big brother" immediately after Bryant's death.
In a new interview with the Los Angeles Times ahead of Sunday night's NBA All-Star Game, Gasol recalled hearing about Bryant's death while he was driving home in Barcelona with his wife, Catherine McDonnell. He received a message from a friend and was not sure how to react at first. McDonnell later told him his face went "completely white" when he saw the news.
"I'm driving and all of a sudden silent for the next two minutes," Gasol said. "I'm listening to those words and I let them sink into my mind. I got home and I just started... started to crying. It was hard to find words. I couldn't talk to anyone for days, basically. I didn't leave the house. I only left the house to do some testing on my foot that I had scheduled."
After the trip to the doctor's office, Gasol went back home and stayed there. He did not leave until he got on an airplane to visit the U.S. ahead of next week's Celebration of Life memorial for Bryant and Gianna.
"It just felt wrong being away from here when I had the chance to and it's not easy to travel with crutches, a boot and stuff, but I needed to be here to be close to his family and to be available."
Gasol said he reached out to Bryant's widow, Vanesa Bryant and "couldn't image" the pain she is going through. When he arrived in Los Angeles, he reached out to the grieving wife to let her know he and McDonnell are there to help her with anything.
"We're here for you forever, for the kids, for you, for the family because at the end of the day, that's what I consider us to be... family," Gasol said.
Gasol shared several tweets on Bryant's death after the helicopter crash, referring to Bryant as his "big brother."
"I still refuse to believe it... it still feels like a nightmare that I can't wait to wake up from... but if this nightmare continues, I will do what I can to keep your legacy going and your lessons present in everything I do," Gasol tweeted on Jan. 30. "I will be heartbroken for a long time, but I will forever be thankful for having had shared so much together. You inspired me and pushed me to be a better version of myself everyday. As you have done with many others."
Gasol is in Chicago this weekend for the All-Star Game. He delivered a speech before the NBA All-Star's Rising Stars game Friday night, calling the weekend festivities a tribute to Bryant and the late NBA Commissioner David Stern, who died on Jan. 1.
"These next few days are a tribute to their legacy," Gasol told the crowd, reports USA Today. "I know my older brother Kobe used to say do epic things always. Let's have an epic weekend in their honor."
Gasol played with Bryant on the Lakers from 2008 to 2014, winning NBA championships in 2009 and 2010. He last played with the Milwaukee Bucks last year, but his foot injury ended his season early. He signed with the Portland Trail Blazers, but was waived in November before he played a game.
The other victims of the Jan. 26 helicopter crash were John Altobelli, Keri Altobelli, Alyssa Altobelli, Sarah Chester, Payton Chester, Christina Mauser and pilot Ara Zobayan.
Photo credit: Tom O'Connor /NBAE via Getty Images