LOS ANGELES -- It was overwhelming at first, the tribute video playing back the memories, the cheers and applause raining down, the fans wearing "Thank Pau" shirts with his accomplishments with the Lakers listed on the back.
"So many emotions -- and that ovation at the start of the game, hard to focus," Pau Gasol said afterward, surrounded by a swarm of reporters who used to cover him daily. "It took me a while to get settled into the game."
Before Gasol's first game back in L.A. against his former team Thursday -- a 123-118 double-overtime loss by the Bulls at Staples Center -- he went to center court and applauded along with fans, showing appreciation for their support after the video played.
But before that, Gasol, who finished with 20 points, 10 rebounds, six assists and four blocks, received a surprise guest in the locker room: Kobe Bryant.
Following season-ending right shoulder surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff, the Lakers' star guard, who won two championships alongside Gasol, visited his former teammate. Gasol left the Lakers last summer after 6 1/2 seasons with the team.
"I really appreciated him coming. I didn't expect it at all," Gasol said. "It was an incredible gesture on his part to want to come and want to say hello. A great unexpected gift."
Not that the two talked all that long.
"He just got surgery," Gasol said. "He was in pain. I told him to go rest, get out of here. ... We're in touch. We talk. I'll see him down the road at one point."
Bryant had been expected to speak to the crowd before the game, but he told ESPN he wasn't feeling well enough, 31 hours after the operation, to go on the court.
This wasn't the first time Gasol entered Staples Center as a member of the Bulls. He also was here Nov. 17 when Chicago faced, and defeated, the Los Angeles Clippers, although he did not play because of a calf injury.
But Thursday was different. Seemingly every time he was shown on the video screen, Lakers fans cheered. It also felt fitting that he scored on a huge tip-in with 11 seconds left in regulation to tie the score, helping to send the game to the first overtime.
"It was emotional," Gasol said. "It was great, obviously. You always welcome appreciation, and that kind of support and love.
"I'm thankful to the fans that I played in front of for so many years and have been through so much. Thanks to the organization to put the tribute together and also the shirts as well. Great experience, but kind of sour for the way we lost."
Gasol, 34, was voted an All-Star starter for the first time and has spoken openly about how "rejuvenated" he feels as a player this season. His pre-All-Star break numbers this season, compared to last year, back up that point.
In his first 44 games last season, Gasol averaged 17.0 points, 10.2 rebounds and 3.4 assists in 31.9 minutes per game, according to ESPN Stats & Information. In his first 44 games of this season, he is averaging 18.3 points, 11.9 rebounds and 2.8 assists in 35 minutes.
"He's been a great fit for us," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. "Great teammate, and he's stepped up and carried us through the early part of this season along with Jimmy [Butler]."
Gasol reiterated after the game that he was glad made the move to the Bulls.
"We're in a great situation," Gasol said. "We've got potential. We still really haven't really got to our best level on a consistent basis, but [it's] definitely a good situation and I'm playing at a high level. I'm motivated. I'm energized and I'm excited about what I'm doing again. I think it's perfect for me."