The trade that changed the NBA

Like all legendary palace coups, it happened late at night when no one was looking.

Somehow, the news held until morning. When it finally broke, it seemed as if the whole world had changed. From one of the darkest corners of the NBA, the Lakers found light in the form of a very tall Spaniard.

Pau Gasol was a Laker.

Just nine months earlier Kobe Bryant had taken a verbal blowtorch to the organization, screaming to any sports talk show that would have him that he'd rather play on Pluto than ever wear purple and gold again. He wanted to win. His patience was frayed, his temper short.
And with good reason.

Two seasons in a row he'd played divine basketball, only to see his season end in April with nondescript first-round playoff losses to the Phoenix Suns.

With his 29th birthday just a few months away and his prime years passing through the hourglass, Bryant could wait no longer. He needed help and he needed it yesterday.

Halfway around the world, at around the same time in early May, Gasol was having similar thoughts. Memphis had been a wonderful town to begin his NBA career in, but it was clear he'd walked as far down Beale Street as he could. Like Bryant, he wanted to win.


  • Look back at Pau Gasol's two years in Los Angeles with audio from Mike Fratello, Andrew Bynum, Mitch Kupchak, Phil Jackson, Jerry West, Kobe Bryant, and, of course, Gasol himself.
    Gallery with audio Listen

Though the Lakers had coveted Gasol from afar for several years, thinking privately that his unique set of skills -- passing ability, basketball IQ, shooting touch and deceptive athleticism -- would be the perfect complement to Bryant in the triangle offense, it wasn't until young center Andrew Bynum went down with a knee injury in mid-January 2008 that general manager Mitch Kupchak actively pursued a trade.

As luck --or fate? -- would have it, Memphis had just begun to stomach the idea of trading Gasol for a combination of salary-cap relief, young talent and draft picks.

It took a couple of weeks to hammer out the deal. Then around 11:30 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 31, 2008, the teams agreed in principle.

By the next morning, the trade was official, and the NBA as we had previously known it had changed.

The Lakers have made two trips to the NBA Finals since then, winning one of them. Gasol has made an All-Star team and been crowned a champion. Bryant has solidified himself as one of the game's all-time greats and won an MVP award.

This is the two-year anniversary of the day that changed everything.

As luck -- or fate? -- would have it, the Lakers play in Memphis on Monday night ... still walking, as you'd imagine, with their feet 10 feet off of Beale.

ESPNLosAngeles.com's Dave McMenamin, Brian Kamenetzky and Andy Kamenetzky contributed to this project.